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BWI losing flights to Africa in May

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport will lose its flights to Africa in May, when North American Airlines cuts service to Lagos, Nigeria, and Accra, Ghana.

It is the latest blow to BWI's efforts to bolster its international service, after Icelandair's pullout last month. It also means the large West African immigrant population in the Baltimore-Washington region will now have to travel further for flights to their home countries.

Rising fuel costs, coupled with competition from routes Delta Air Lines recently launched from New York to West Africa, have forced North American Airlines to shut down all commercial service, company spokesman Steve Forsyth said.

"We were pretty pleased overall with the customer response," Forsyth said. "It's just that costs have gotten away from us."

North American Airlines, an arm of Georgia-based Global Aero Logistics, will still run military and chartered flights.

The airline began weekly BWI flights to Ghana by way of Banjul, Gambia, in June 2006. Three flights a week to Nigeria were added in September 2007 and the Gambia stop was dropped. These flights reinstated service to Africa after Air Ghana was grounded in 2004.

BWI's only remaining international flights will be to London and the Caribbean when North American discontinues service May 20.

Customers with flights booked after that date will receive refunds or may call the airline to try to rebook with another carrier, Forsyth said. A few thousand passengers will be affected, he said.

Maryland's 57,000 West African immigrants, representing more than 8 percent of the state's foreign-born population, will particularly miss the flights.

"Especially in the summer, West African citizens here fly a lot to visit back home and do business," said Liberia native Maxwell Hooks, who is founding a nonprofit in Essex called West African Concerns. "That's going to be disastrous."

laura.mccandlish@baltsun.com

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