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Delta becomes 1st US carrier to resume international flights to Liberia after end of civil war

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Delta Air Lines Inc. has launched a new flight from the U.S. to Liberia, becoming the first American carrier to serve the West African nation that is recovering from more than a decade of civil war.

A statement issued Sunday by Delta says flights will operate weekly between Monrovia and Delta's hub in Atlanta with a stop in Accra, Ghana.

Before the outbreak of the conflict, major airlines like Pan American World Airways, Air France and even the Concorde flew directly to Liberia. The country was shattered during 11 years of on-and-off fighting starting with a 1989 coup led by warlord Charles Taylor, who is now on trial at the Hague.

Taylor was forced out of the country in 2003 and a peace deal brought an end to the fighting. Elections held two years later marked the start of a turnaround under the leadership of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Harvard graduate and former World Bank economist.

Sirleaf walked out onto the runway Sunday to welcome the maiden flight.

"It goes without saying therefore that maintaining direct links with the United States is not only an economic necessity but for many Liberians it is also of psychological significance," she said.

The flight is also symbolic of Liberia's close ties with the U.S., which date back to the early 19th century when freed American slaves first began settling the small country along Africa's western coast. Liberia's constitution as well as its flag are modeled on America's.

"Delta Airlines' inaugural direct from Monrovia to the United States opens the skies over Liberia for business, for commerce for tourism, and for travel," Sirleaf said upon the arrival of the flight.