Friday, June 30, 2017

The Godfather of African aviation shares industry insights

Ato Girma Wake, the current Chairman of RwandAir and former CEO of Ethiopian Airlines is viewed by many, including myself, as the Godfather of African aviation, having overseen the rise of Ethiopian Airlines. Mr Wake will address the AviaDev audience this October, discussing the current state of the industry the continent and how it has changed during his 50 years of service to the industry.

JH: You are currently the Chairman of RwandAir- an ambitious and expanding airline. Five years from now,do you think RwandAir will be rivalling the big three Sub-Saharan carriers in terms of size and scale?

GW: Yes, I am the currently Chairman of RwandAir and have served in this capacity for the last five years. I have witnessed the progress RwandAir made year after year in terms of route network expansion, fleet renewal, capacity development etc., In five years time, I expect it to further expand and strengthen its market and geographical reach.

The big three Sub-Saharan carriers you referred to have been around for many years. It will be difficult for RwandAir to rival these carriers in terms of number of destinations, number of passengers, size of fleet and yearly revenue in the next five years. However, I can assure you it can rival any airline in terms of on-time departure, quality of services and standard of performance. The size and scale will be reached a bit later.

JH: You have lived and worked against the back drop of the open skies for Africa discussions. Do you think we will ever have truly open skies in Africa or is this simply wishful thinking?

GW: True, we have struggled with the concept of open skies in Africa for twenty eight long years since the idea was first floated in 1989 as Yamoussoukro Declaration. It was later changed to Yamoussoukro decision in 1999. We have seen tremendous improvement in ease of bilateral traffic rights in the last fifteen years and I am sure open skies in Africa will be fully implemented in the next five years. There could be some resistance and hurdles here and there for the short term, but the determination of our Heads of States to create One African sky will prevail. We now have the structure and the legal framework in place and we are ready for a truly Open Skies in Africa.

JH: Which airlines operating currently in Africa do you think have the potential to be the future stars of the continent and why?

GW: I would like to see all African airlines shine, but as you know life is not that fair. I believe Africa will have four or five large, long haul operators and a few regional and mid-size airlines in the next ten years. When and if the Nationality (ownership) clause is removed, consolidation will take its course which will lead to fewer, but stronger African Airlines in the long term.

Coming back to your question, forgive for my bias, but I honestly believe Ethiopian Airlines will remain one of the stars. It has a good foundation, a strong aviation academy to continue producing trained skilled manpower, it has a good maintenance facility that not only serves the airlines, but brings in revenue for the airline, an excellent route network, committed management and staff, leadership continuity,a long term vision for sustained operational excellence, a centrally located growing hub and a government that gives the airline free hand to manage its affairs. Moreover, it continues to be the most profitable airline on the continent. Consequently, I believe Ethiopian will continue to remain in the forefront as a star.

Kenya Airways, South African Airways, Egypt Air and Royal Air Maroc will also be in that league. I only hope the first three will solve their current problems. These carriers are good airlines with reasonable size fleet, route network, and traffic density. It is my belief that Kenya airways and South African Airways can easily sustain the status of Stars in Africa if they do something about their management stability and if in the case of South African Airways, the heavy arm of the state can be removed from the day to day operation of the airline. RwandAir, ASKY and Air -Ivoire are up coming stars in their areas of operation.

It is my sincere hope and desire to see one Nigerian carrier emerge as a star when the current temporary turmoil in the aviation industry in Nigeria is settled. I hope and pray it will be sooner than latter. Given the traffic volume, there is strong probability for a well managed Nigerian carrier to emerge as a star in Africa. I have not included the Indian Ocean island carriers in this category due to their the limited operational participation in the continent.

(Jon Howell - AeroTime News)

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