Thursday, 19 November 2015

Interview: Henok Teferra, ASKY CEO

ASKY mulls Nigerian subsidiary in lieu of cabotage rights

West Africa's ASKY Airlines will consider setting up subsidiaries in large markets such as Nigeria if progress is not made in securing cabotage rights.

"The ideal is to have countries understand [the benefits of liberalisation] and create a single African market," chief executive Henok Teferra tells Flightglobal.

"But if that does not materialise, then there are other routes we would look at ... If we are not able to overcome these restrictions we have with traffic rights, we could establish for example an ASKY Nigeria so as to tap into the domestic market."

ASKY is based in Togo and relies heavily on fifth-freedom traffic rights to operate connecting services across the sub-region.

Founded in 2007 at the behest of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the airline enjoys political backing across the sub-region and has therefore had little difficulty securing bilateral designations.

But despite quickly becoming West Africa's largest airline, ASKY still faces restrictions in key domestic markets.

Asked about the prospects of further implementation of the 1999 Yamoussoukro Decision (YD), which is intended to liberalise cross-border flying in Africa, Teferra says: "YD is already outdated. YD is yesterday. What we need today is what the EU did: [we need to] create a single market.

"We are beyond fifth-freedom. It should be cabotage like you have in Europe. That's how Ryanair fly, that's how EasyJet fly. We are always one battle behind in Africa, unfortunately."

The chief executive does not commit to establishing foreign subsidiaries, but hints that some governments "would be more comfortable" with a joint venture part-owned by local investors. He says this strategy, if adopted, would necessitate multiple air operator's certificates.

Asked about ASKY's organic growth plans for 2016, Teferra says Nouakchott in Mauritania, Banjul in Gambia, and Praia in Cape Verde will join the regional network – the latter incorporating a stop in Dakar, Senegal.

Services to the Ebola-hit countries of Liberia and Sierra Leone will also resume next year, while frequencies will rise on routes to Dakar and Abidjan in Ivory Coast.

ASKY further aims to add one of three destinations outside the sub-region next summer: Paris, Beirut or Johannesburg. "It will be only one long-haul destination," he says. "It's pretty much a toss-up to see which one fits best to our network strategy."

Ongoing expansion will be fuelled by the delivery of four more Boeing 737NGs – one per year until the turn of the decade.