Lone Star Air, Liberian national airline, was officially launched on October 30, 2020. However, many questions can be raised as of its actual state.
The launch ceremony was conducted in recently modernized Monrovia-Roberts International Airport (ROB). A number of government officials gathered at the event praised a decision, attributed to West African country’s president George Weah, to restart the national carrier after 30 years.
Air Liberia, which operated several utility aircraft, ceased to exist in the midst of bloody civil war in 1990. Following a ceasefire in 1995, Liberia Airways was established only to perish in the clashes preceding another civil war three years later.
LoneStar (Vol. 1)
However, in the midst of the second civil war, an airline called LoneStar Airways emerged. It leased one Boeing 727-200 (serial number 21040) from Serbian firm Aviogenex and adorned it with an impressive Liberian flag-inspired livery. Plans to lease another 727 were in place, and the company conducted at least three flights with Sudanese-registered McDonnell Douglas MD 83 too.
A strong bond between the Serbian and the Liberian companies was underscored by visits of Aviogenex representatives to Monrovia, and large sums of Liberian government money (from nation’s maritime and forestry programs) funneled into LoneStar as well as several other Sudanese, Egyptian and British airlines it cooperated with. This resulted in hundreds of supposedly passenger flights between war-torn Liberian capital and several African and Balkan destinations in late 2002 and early 2003.
As the UN Security Council report (S/2003/498) shows, those flights existed solely to ferry large amounts of weapons, including combat helicopter parts, between Belgrade and Monrovia. LoneStar Airways was a scheme to circumvent UN arms embargo and stopped flights some time before the president Charles Taylor – whose economic adviser Emmanuel Shaw was the managing director of LoneStar – resigned and fled the country.
LoneStar (Vol. 2)
With the ceasefire and the change of government, the faux airline should have ceased to exist, but it did not. In 2004, the company’s website was registered. It had a picture of antiquated Boeing 737-200 with a livery painted on in MS Paint, an empty letter from an unnamed company’s Chairman and CEO (“will be available soon”) and an offer for tickets to one of 6 destinations: Banjul, Dakar, Freetown, Abidjan, Accra, and Lagos.
No flights were conducted and the website went on sale several years later. There is no information on who operated the supposed company and whether there was any serious intent behind it. The airline was not registered with IATA, and although ROB airport lists its ICAO code (LOA), there is no mention of it anywhere in the organization’s records from the period, or any time later.
Lone Star (Vol. 3)
Which brings us to 2020 and the opening ceremony at the airport, which had a large crowd of onlookers and plenty of Lone Star Air promotional material. Large banner, promising that the airline is “Coming soon”, was placed near the entrance, and an even larger one – in the main hall of the building. Both of them featured an Embraer ERJ-135 regional jet with yet another version of the company’s livery and logo. The ceremony lasted for over an hour, as government officials expressed their joy at the upcoming economic recovery of the country.
“It will be a pride and an honor for every Liberian to [be able to] fly directly from Liberia to the USA,” Liberia’s deputy information minister Eugene Fahghon told journalists after the ceremony ended. Neither he, nor other officials explained what aircraft will take Liberians across the ocean, or when the flights will start. Instead, the minister kept pointing at the “Lone Star Queens” – a company of young women in an assortment of crowns and pageant belts posing all around the airport.
They are featured on Lone Star Air’s new website too, with exotic backgrounds taken from various stock photo sites, sometimes with watermarks still on them. The website invites to fly with the Queens to ten destinations: Conakry, Ouagadogou, Sao Tome, and Abuja in addition to the six from 2004 network. There is no offer to purchase tickets this time though, although it looks like the graphic designer graduated from MS Paint to Adobe Photoshop, as feathering and changes in brightness are sometimes present in collages of stock photos.
Although many would like to see an establishment of a new airline as a long-needed breath of good news in the present climate, there are more than enough reasons to doubt whether Lone Star will ever fly. First, of course, there is the lack of any concrete information on deadlines, purchases or finances anywhere. Then, there is a question of why a name of a company that already emerged twice, and flew no passengers either of those times, was selected.
And lastly, there is Goldstar Air: an airline from Ghana which was routinely mentioned as a “partner” during an opening ceremony. It will provide “management services” to Lone Star, according to Fahghon, and it is – as One Mile At A Time aptly noted – not a real airline. It failed to conduct a single flight since an inception in 2014 and shares a familiar fondness for badly collaged images, although it primarily photoshops its livery on wide-body aircraft, in contrast to Lone Star’s regionals.
As the opening ceremony was under way, most officials spoke about Lone Star Air in present tense, as if it already existed. Yet there was one – Director General of Liberia Civil Aviation Authority (LCAA) Moses Y. Kollie – who maintained strict future tense and expressed an expectation that Lone Star will, and not have, become a sign of recovery for Liberia.
Needless to say, the airline is not certified by LCAA yet and there is no information that it has at least one aircraft, or has started talks of acquiring one. Several outlets – including Reuters – announced that Lone Star Air already has a plane, with a likely reference to the same Boeing 727, illegal-weapons-carrier from the early 2000s, still listed on Wikipedia. But its traces disappeared soon after the original LoneStar’s dissolution. Monrovia-Roberts International Airport’s website has a list of aircraft and airlines based in it; Lone Star Airways is there, with an emoji of skull and bones next to it – presumably, defunct. Something called Lonestar Airways is also there, without an indication of death, but with no aircraft too.
So, what future holds for Liberia’s national airline? One thing for sure: badly photoshopped images. Flights? Maybe. Let’s hope for that