) --

US Airways


President Scott Kirby apparently can see the day when the new



would operate flights between Miami and Africa.

"Miami would serve as a great gateway to Africa," Kirby said recently during a meeting with employees in Phoenix, according to an employee newsletter. "We have done some looking at points in Africa, (although) that is speculative and probably a little further down the road," he said.

U.S. regulators are expected to approve the pending merger between US Airways and American during the current quarter. Kirby would be president of the combined airline. During the meeting, he answered an employee question about potential international expansion, in which the employee raised the possibility of Africa service.

In his response, Kirby discussed expansion plans continent by continent, starting with Asia, which he called "the one region in the world, when we merge, where we're a little bit behind.

"We have a lot of focus on the right places to grow in Asia," he said. "In Asia, we're behind


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because they have old networks that are part of a post- World War II treaty with Japan so Asia's been our focus of growth."

Kirby said new American operates the best network to South America and would be "on a par to Europe" with Delta and United.

Delta is the leading U.S. carrier to Africa, where it serves five cities. From New York Kennedy, Delta operates daily service to Accra and Lagos and thrice-weekly service to Dakar and to Monrovia, via Accra. From Atlanta, Delta flies daily to Johannesburg, a flight of about 8,400 miles, one of the world's longest commercial aviation flights. United operates a Houston-Lagos flight.

Aviation consultant Robert Mann said one problem is that it has always been difficult for U.S. carriers to operates in some parts of Africa, particularly parts of West Africa. "The issue with some West African nations has always been the problem of doing business," he said. "It's still difficult dealing with the airports and the handling companies. There are a lot of issues with logistics on the ground and you can have a tough time finding places where you can put crews up, because of security issues."

In the 1990s,

South African Airways

operated a non-stop between Miami and Cape Town, a 7,600 mile flight. The carrier, a member of the Star Alliance, now flies from Johannesburg to JFK and Washington Dulles.

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-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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Ted Reed