The Managing Director, ASKY Airlines, Mr Henok Tefferra, a recipient of the Balafon award for the Aviation Personality of the Year in West Africa, at the just concluded Accra Weizo, a travel and tourism show, speaks with WALE OLAPADE in Ghana on seamless air connectivity, problems facing the travel industry in Africa and ASKY brand focus among others.
ASKY Brand Focus
Since ASKY is a customer focused airline we want to meet your expectations. One is safety, the highest; the maximum international safety standard possible, ASKY is an IOSA certified airline. Secondly, we bring you on time, our flights are 80 per cent on time, so we have a very on time performance, punctuality and the friendliness, the courteous, the hospitality of our staff both on ground and in the air.
We now have a fantastic airport in Lome, a new airport terminal was inaugurated in May this year, I would say this is the best airport I have seen in this region, it has fantastic services, free WiFi access, fantastic duty-free shops, really very spacious, the most modern facilities and amenities you will imagine to get in Europe. With that airport and also with our latest aircraft that is very modern, all these factors make the customer experience as agreeable as possible, that is why flying with us more time and more is a wonderful experience.
Bridging connectivity gap in Africa
Yes, West African connectivity gaps still exist, and the reasons for it are two-fold, one is that the aviation policy environment is not very conducive to be very frank, you still have traffic rights restrictions, I for example cannot fly as many times as I want to all the destinations that I want. There are still restrictions which I don’t understand because over 20 years ago that the Yamasukuro decision was adopted by the leaders of Africa, liberalising African skies for African airlines, especially fifth freedom as is slow in implementation, you still have an initiative by African Union to create a single African aviation market which we support, we want to push, but fragmented and the traffic right restriction is a very difficult issue, the environment is not conducive. And secondly, the cost of environment in West and Central Africa is prohibitive. Why is it that the cost of over- flying here is twice as expensive as in East Africa? Why is it that ground handling here is 30 – 40 percent more expensive here, why is that the same aircraft fuel which I know aircraft consume everywhere is 20- 30 percent more expensive here. It is prohibitive, it is not conducive for business growth and on top of that you have taxation, the taxation regime which considers aviation not as a strategic sector which enables trade, investment, tourism, and economic development and integration, but merely as a luxury sector, as a cash cow, with that mindset, aviation in this part of the world will have difficulty in providing initial air connectivity, it is not conducive. We can learn from what Singapore, Dubai and others did, so that we can have a growing economy in this region with young population. This is the region that has the highest demographics in terms of the population size and a fast emerging middle class, and these are the people who have the ability to travel with disposable income, so why are we hindering it and hindering aviation from playing its rightful role? It can be a catalyst, aviation today is responsible for eight million jobs directly or indirectly in the continent, which could be much more, because it contributes significantly to the GDP of the continent. It could be much more, though is much already. Imagine what it could be if all these restrictions and obstacles are removed.
I will be telling them what I have said now, remove all barriers and restrictions for African airlines to operate freely to your airports. If I am an African carrier, I should be able to operate freely anywhere I want in Africa, just like European carrier operate freely on the European airspace or in Europe. Two, treat aviation as a strategic asset, as an enabler of economic growth because it is only through aviation you can develop and encourage trade, investment, tourism and development in your country. You can have airport taxes and charges that are not prohibitive for the development and growth of aviation.
Plans on long haul destination
Yes, we are planning to start the major markets for West African region which are London and Paris. Now that our regional network is strong with 23 destinations covered, I think we are talking about our second phase of our development where we are looking at starting long haul flights to Europe.
It was something that was planned, but the growth exceeded our expectations, is something that we worked hard for, but is only the beginning, in the West African region, the airlines are very small even the so-called big ones, Ethiopian airlines, Kenyan Airways, South African airlines everybody put together, we are merely 20 per cent of the long haul market from Africa, merely we are in infancy of aviation. But there is a promise because Africa is growing as Africans are travelling more and more. But Africa should not be a consumer base for the global economy; Africa should be an economic player in the global economy. Africa should be an economic player, playing an active role in the global economy. African airline should have a fair share of the travel and tour from Africa and that is what we are aiming to tap into.
Obviously is Nigeria, because of the market size, Nigeria is by far the biggest economy, by far has the highest population, has the volume of the population with disposable income and Nigerians are very industrious people, people who do a lot of business, a lot of trade and you also have a lot of companies and organisations based in Nigeria like ECOWAS, so naturally is Nigeria to all the networks, Dakar is a big market for Nigeria, Abidjan is a big market for Nigeria, all over the network are big markets for Nigeria.
This is the beginning, the success is a small one, Africa needs a strong African airline that can work together and tap into the African market which is currently being dominated by non-African carriers which should not be. As far as I am concerned, ASKY is managed by Ethiopian airlines. Ethiopian is the strategic partner of ASKY, it manages the airline and provides the technical and commercial support and it also has equity in the airline. I was seconded by Ethiopian Airlines to manage ASKY and previously, before coming here, I was the vice president at Ethiopian Airlines in charge of strategy, alliance and communications.
We are working on flying to Paris, working on plans to secure rights to fly to Paris that is what we are working on for now.