Operators Face Up To African Challenges

 - November 15, 2013, 3:00 PM
Seeing Africa as a potential business aviation hub, ExecuJet is operating three facilities in the country: one at Lanseria, offering 9,000 sq m of hangar space; another at Cape Town International Airport (above) measuring 6,000 sq m and one opened in Lagos in 2012 at Murtala Mohammed International Airport (below) with 4,700 sq m of hangarage.

“The African continent has great potential to become a business aviation hub, which led to us opening our facility in Lagos in October 2012,” said Ettore Poggi, ExecuJet Africa’s managing director. “Traditionally, Africa has mainly been a turboprop market, popular with mining companies and the tourist industry. While the mining industry remains a key market for African charter services, there is also now growing demand for business jets beyond South Africa, such as in West Africa where widebody jets are popular. Due to the lack of reliable scheduled flights in the region, business leaders are therefore turning to private jets for their travelling needs,” he continued.

“Africa has benefited from the surge in commodity prices for oil, minerals, grain and other raw materials in the past few years. There is tremendous opportunity in the East Africa countries, such as Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya and, if stability can be maintained, in the mineral-rich Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, we need improved infrastructure and for regulatory authorities to have a better understanding of the particular needs of general aviation in order for the market to grow.”

As business aviation grows on the continent so local operators are growing their fleets to meet new demand, but there are hurdles to be overcome. One of them is the lack of high-quality facilities away from the traditionally strong business destinations such as South Africa and Morocco. “There’s a real need to develop FBOs,” asserted Catherine Gaisenband, senior FBO consultant with Aviacare. But, she added, “Every country is so different. It makes for a very complex continent, and what works somewhere doesn’t work everywhere. The key is the local staff, and good training. There are already many very well-prepared people in Africa, and they want to learn. There’s a real energy.”

Other African operators also highlight the need to work with local partners to ensure the best services. However, while some companies may want to standardize levels of service across their facilities, Gaisenband noted that, “Africans traditionally provide a very warm welcome. That must not be lost in international standards.”

For companies seeking to expand or build new facilities Africa provides challenges, not thee least of which is the bureaucracy and the slow speed at which paperwork is processed. It is also difficult to acquire the information required upon which decisions can be made. “There are no statistics available to drive the further establishment of FBOs,” said Michael Clark, ExecuJet’s director of flight operations. “Land acquisition can be difficult, too.” He also noted that franchising could be an answer to expand FBO coverage in Africa, but only with strong service-level agreements in place to maintain quality.

OEM support

One area where African operators have faced issues is with regard to support from aircraft manufacturers. Some have complained about the length of time that it takes to get parts, and the distances that have to be traveled for training. These could be seen as the growing pains of a young industry, and the OEMs are responding through increasing their regional presence as the African business aviation fleet grows.

For some OEMs, such as Dassault and Gulfstream, support for African operators is provided from Europe, but others are establishing themselves on a regional basis. Bombardier, for instance, has a regional support center in South Africa, and a servicing facility in Nigeria, and another is due to be opened in Morocco. Embraer has service support centers in Egypt, Morocco and South Africa, although these primarily support its regional jet operators. However, there is one business aviation center and a second is soon to be opened. Airbus Corporate Jets also supports its aircraft through the airliner network, while Beechcraft supports its aircraft through ExecuJet’s facilities in South Africa–and is soon to offer support at the Lagos FBO as well.

For OEMs, one problem is the difficulty importing parts to many African nations. Delays in clearing customs cause delays in repairs, which in turn impacts on operators considerably. This is one of the many issues where most national authorities have yet to fully embrace and support the growth of business aviation.