in Air Transport / Features

Pereira wrestles with TAAG team troubles

Posted 29 November 2018 · Add Comment

Despite the Angolan Government disbanding a consortium that planned to set up a feeder airline for national carrier TAAG, one of the main movers behind it believes that the project will still go ahead. Alan Dron reports.

The announcement, when it came, was a shock. Despite having progressed as far as ordering a fleet of turboprop aircraft, the consortium set up to usher in a new era of domestic air services in Angola was being disbanded by the country’s new president and government.
The consortium, Air Connection Express (ACE), was a public-private partnership made up of carriers Air 26, Air Guicango, Airjet, Diexim Expresso, SJL and flag-carrier TAAG, plus air taxi operator Mavewa, aircraft ground-handler and fixed-base operator (FBO) Bestfly, and the country’s national airport management company, ENANA.
The plan was to create a network of feeder services into Luanda’s new international airport, from where passengers could connect to international services by TAAG, the national carrier.
ACE’s plans were thrown into disarray in July by the president’s decision.
However, one of ACE’s backers, Bestfly’s managing director and CEO, Captain Nuno Pereira, believes that the scheme will be resurrected.
Pereira is a veteran of the Angolan aviation scene, having joined the nation’s fledgling air force as a cadet in 1994. He became a bush pilot, flying a DHC Twin Otter for the Angolan Oil Company, before moving on to flying relief supplies on a Boeing 727 with Angola’s Transafrik International for the World Food Programme.
He moved steadily up the aircraft size scale, including a spell with Portugal’s EuroAtlantic Airways on Boeing B747-300s and Lockheed L1011 Tristars, before ending up as a Boeing 777 pilot with TAAG.
Moving into the corporate aviation sector with NetJets Europe in 2003, he was one of the first NetJets officers to fly the Gulfstream IV on its introduction to the European fleet.
Since 2009, however, he and his wife, Alcinde, have been running Bestfly, Angola’s largest fixed-base operator and corporate aircraft management company.
All of which made him a natural addition to ACE, which, in May, placed an order with Canada’s Bombardier for six Q400 turboprops. “The Q400 is unbeatable for routes of up to 2.5 hours with low passenger loads,” said Pereira. Its main competitor for the contract, the Franco-Italian ATR, “is a great plane, but it’s more for journeys of 450 miles at most”. Additionally, several airports in central Angola are at elevations of 4,000 to 5,000ft “and the performance of the ATR in hot-and-high conditions doesn’t do the job”.
The Q400, however, can tackle typical Angolan temperatures with full fuel and a full payload, he said.
The new Luanda International Airport is designed to be a hub for the region, but “How do you create a hub if you don’t have a feeder system?” As well as connecting half-a-dozen Angolan cities to the capital, ACE’s plan was to have the Q400s travelling as far as 950 miles (1,500km), which brings within range cities such as Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire in Congo, and perhaps even Harare, in Zimbabwe.
“TAAG has domestic services, but with Boeing 737s. And to fly 30 passengers on a 40-minute flight doesn’t make sense,” said Pereira. “You don’t have to be a brain surgeon or have a degree in economics to understand that the economics are not in your favour. You need 60 to 80 passengers to break even [on a 737]. On the Q400 with 30 passengers, you at least break even.”
A similar point was made following the May signing of the contract by Bombardier Commercial Aircraft’s vice-president sales, Middle East and Africa, Jean-Paul Boutibou: “The Q400 has proven to be a key contributor to the growth of the [air travel] network in the region, enhancing connectivity on routes that are not economically viable for larger aircraft.”
Pereira refuses to blame the government for the situation and negotiations are now under way with it to arrive at a new solution for a domestic airline.
“The Government of Angola decided to change their strategy and we understand that the vision and view that they had might be different than it was,” he said.
However, he is annoyed that there have been allegations of corruption around ACE.
“It’s a bit frustrating to see that people are trying to smear and create an image of wrongdoing when, in reality, nothing happened that was wrong.
“Let me put it like this: I can’t disclose the numbers that we discussed with Bombardier but if you’re paying bribes, normally that’s associated with over-pricing the aircraft. So how do you explain that we got a price almost as low as Ethiopian Airlines when they bought 40 Q400s and we only bought six?”
Pereira stresses that, despite the demise of ACE, the contract for Q400s has not been cancelled: “We’re not in the business of not honouring contracts.” Even if takes another year to 18 months, he believes in the business case for a domestic carrier.
He believes the government has the same attitude, aware that scrapping the deal would have a negative effect on Angola’s image. “They know that cancellation would have an impact on the country itself. They are trying to find a way of not defaulting on the contract.”
So, what happens now? “The government will make a business case or a study [for a new airline]. If you ask me would I like to be involved, I would say ‘Yes’.”
Creating a single, domestic airline would not only create structural change in the Angolan aviation sector but would help develop the country’s infrastructure as a whole, with the need to create more skilled jobs through the training of pilots, cabin crew and mechanics.
Bestfly had been involved with ACE from the outset, he said – “It was a very solid business plan” – and Pereira’s attitude towards setting up a domestic airline has not changed.
However, if the new airline ultimately does not go ahead, Bestfly will not be adversely affected: “Our business model remains the same. Most probably, we won’t get involved in the scheduled airline anyway – our business is corporate flying.
 

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