Thursday, 1 October 2020

Interview: George Uriesi, Ibom Air COO

Full article in PDF format

Before Covid-19 reared its ugly head, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicted that air passenger numbers in Nigeria will rise by 174% over the next two decades.

Its forecast came as no surprise to anyone familiar with the country’s runaway demographics. Nigeria already has the largest headcount of any African nation: 206 million citizens as of last year. With annual growth rates of 2.5%, The Lancet expects it to become the second most populated country in the world by the end of this century.

That will mean overtaking China, whose own population is set to nearly halve during the same period.

Yet, despite its rising fortunes, Nigeria is ill-prepared for the coming boom in aviation. There are currently no domestic airlines strong enough to compete on long-haul routes from the country, meaning the spoils of its growth are largely accruing to foreign operators...

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Time to take aim at shootdowns

Full article in PDF format

Few readers will be aware that, on 4 th May, an Embraer EMB-120 passenger plane operated by African Express Airways was shot down with the loss of all on-board.

The aircraft was making a humanitarian flight from Baidoa to Berdale in Somalia, carrying medical supplies for the country’s fight against covid-19. It was downed by Ethiopian soldiers who apparently mistook its “unusual” flight path for a “potential suicide mission” by Al Shabaab, the Islamist terror group.

Six people died, including Captain Hassan Bulhan, the son of the airline’s owner.

Four months earlier, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 (PS752) was blown out of the sky by Iranian soldiers who feared it was a cruise missile launched by the US military. That catastrophe claimed 176 lives.

And six years ago – in what was supposed to be a watershed moment for the airline industry – Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) was shot down by Russia-backed rebels over the skies of eastern Ukraine. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) pledged to honour the 298 victims of that tragedy by ensuring that “civilian airliners will never again be brought down by weapons of war”.

Clearly, those words now ring hollow...

Interview: Cosmos Gombura, Sky Navigator Managing Director

Full article in PDF format

Last year, Cosmos Gombura, the managing director of Sky Navigator, a new South Sudanese airline, drove to neighbouring Uganda to attend a friend’s wedding.

His group made the journey via the Nimule highway – the only tarmacked highway in South Sudan – which stretches from capital city Juba across the Ugandan border to the northern town of Gulu.

Shootings, bombings and sexual assaults are a common occurrence on the notorious road. So, when Gombura’s party became stranded, he inevitably feared the worst...

Friday, 1 May 2020

Interview: Yossrey Abdel Wahab, Nile Air Managing Director

Full article in PDF format

In recent years Nile Air had seemed to be a rare bright spot in Egypt’s civil aviation market, spreading its wings even as the country grappled with a series of political and security crises.

Former boss Ahmed Aly attributed the airline’s success to its varied customer base of business travellers, pilgrims, tourists, and visiting friends and relatives. Under his watch, the full-service carrier grew its fleet from two to seven aircraft while launching a host of new routes.

But the expansion ground to a halt in 2017 and Aly’s successor, Yossrey Abdel Wahab, is far from convinced about the wisdom of the strategy...

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Interview: Bushra Abushora, Tarco Aviation Strategic Planning Director

Full article in PDF format

Last November, Apollo Aviation Group, a US company that manages aircraft assets, was fined $210,000 by the US government for unwittingly leasing out engines that wound up in the hands of Sudan Airways, the flag-carrier of Sudan, in 2014.

The fact that America lifted its economic embargo of Sudan three years ago failed to deter the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the wing of the US Treasury responsible for sanctions enforcement, from pursuing Apollo.

So, too, did the many mitigating factors that OFAC acknowledged of the case: Apollo had no advance warning that its engines would be passed via intermediaries to Sudan Airways; the engines were ultimately in Sudan for just four months on wet-leased aircraft; and the contract was immediately dissolved when Apollo discovered the slip-up.

To even casual observers, this heavy-handed response leaves little doubt about the seriousness that Washington attaches to violations – deliberate or otherwise – of its sanctions regime.

But it also partly explains why the removal of the decades-old US embargo has done little to ease Sudan’s problems...

Interview: Mustafa Maatug, Afriqiyah Airways Chairman

Full article in PDF format

Mitiga Airport, Tripoli’s only functioning gateway, resumed operations in December after it was closed for three months due to airstrikes by Khalifa Haftar, the country’s most powerful warlord.

The disruption was just the latest blow for Libya’s long-suffering airlines – their previous hub, Tripoli International Airport, was destroyed in 2014 – yet Mustafa Maatug, the chairman of Afriqiyah Airways, one of Libya’s state-owned flag-carriers, is quick to find a silver lining.

“This sort of problem is happening very rarely,” he told African Aerospace. “It happens from time to time, but these problems will not stop us from operating...

Tunisair's Plan B

Full article in PDF format

Tunisair is working on a new restructuring plan after its government owner walked away from a proposed overhaul that would have cost $1.3 billion Tunisian dinar ($457 million).

“We will use another plan that doesn't need for us this quantity [of money],” Ilyes Mnakbi, the airline’s chief executive, said on the sidelines of an industry conference in Kuwait. “We will make our own plan – not the government's plan – for restructuring the company. It will be less money than the other one … The government doesn't give us this amount."

Mnakbi provided few details about the revised plan, insisting that management were still weighing up several options. But he reiterated his support for three strategic priorities: fleet renewal; rationalisation of the workforce; and an increased focus on Africa...

Monday, 23 March 2020

New charter airline Aero Georgia targets September launch

Full article on

The Caucasian country of Georgia could be served by a new charter airline as soon as this September following successful talks with two eastern European investors.

Aero Georgia is aiming to launch flights with a single narrow-body aircraft capable of carrying up to 150 passengers, Igor Aptsiauri, the company’s chief executive, told me in a telephone interview.

“This will be the first time that Georgia will have a purely charter airline,” he said.

“What we have noticed here in Georgia is that there's a very big demand for charters. And not only in Georgia … If we look at the big airlines in eastern Europe and the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] region, the ones that are doing more or less OK financially are all charter airlines...

Sunday, 8 March 2020

This is why flights are still operating from Milan’s airports

Full article on

When Italy’s government placed the northern region of Lombardy on lockdown this weekend, many assumed that Milan’s airports would immediately halt flights.

The reason for isolating Lombardy, after all, is to slow the spread of COVID-19, the coronavirus disease that has so far infected 109,500 people worldwide, killing 3,800. Italy is by far the European country worst affected by the outbreak, with 7,375 cases and 366 deaths. Lombardy is its worst hit region.

Several countries and airlines have already taken matters into their own hands by grounding flights and cutting frequencies to northern Italy.

Yet, as of Sunday March 8th, the day that the lockdown began, Milan’s Malpensa Airport and Bergamo Airport were both insisting that it’s business as usual in their terminals. Bergamo Airport’s operator is still sharing a video that encourages its customers to #keeponflying...

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

South Sudan's most credible airline targets breakthrough year

Full article on

Sky Navigator, a South Sudanese virtual airline that launched operations in 2019, has laid out an ambitious plan to normalize air transport in its war-torn home nation.

The company is locally owned but relies on chartering aircraft from foreign partners due to the limited capabilities of the South Sudan Civil Aviation Authority, which lacks the ability to issue Air Operator’s Certificates (AOCs) and has ceded control of its airspace to Sudan since the two countries separated in 2011.

A pair of 12-seater Cessna Caravans is currently operated by the airline under short-term contracts with Horn Aviation of Kenya and Fly Zanzibar of Tanzania.

But managing director Cosmos Gombura is aiming to replace these units with five of Sky Navigator’s own Caravans this year – three on long-term leases and two purchased outright – as well as pressing the regulator to begin issuing local operating licenses as soon as possible...

Saturday, 1 February 2020

SaudiGulf's high hopes

Full article in PDF format: page 16-17 & cover

With just six aircraft in its fleet, SaudiGulf Airlines, a boutique carrier based in Dammam in eastern Saudi Arabia, has only a modest slice of the kingdom’s fast-expanding aviation market.

Owners Al-Qahtani Group, a family-run conglomerate, undoubtedly hoped to spread their wings faster when they were granted an operating licence in 2016.

But, for chief executive Abdulmohsen Jonaid, who joined the airline after heading up Saudia, the country’s much larger flag-carrier, quality is more important than quantity at this stage of SaudiGulf’s development...

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

How to protect airliners from missiles

Full article on

The shooting-down of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 over Iran on January 8th provoked outrage around the world—not least in Iran, where it triggered a new round of anti-government protests. Mixed with the grief and anger was disbelief that an international airline was willing—and allowed—to fly through a potential conflict zone. Such catastrophes are not as rare as they should be...

Monday, 13 January 2020

The downing of flight 752 in Iran is a tragedy of complacency

Full article on

On 7 January, one day before Iran shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane near Tehran, as commercial jets piled into the busy air corridor over neighbouring Iraq, I tweeted: “I hope the lessons of MH17 are not being forgotten.”

That reference to Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 – which was shot down by separatist rebels over eastern Ukraine in 2014 – might seem like an eerie premonition. But it was simply common sense. My concerns were rooted in a basic grasp of the risks of flying through potential conflict zones. Last week’s tragedy has exposed the abject failure of western governments, intelligence agencies and airline industry groups to protect travellers, as they pledged to in the aftermath of MH17.

Consider what was known in the days leading up to the loss of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752...