Still flying

Some of the continent’s biggest economies are currently struggling, but the private aviation industry remains a vibrant one, despite reduced spend and increasingly difficult operating conditions.

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Some of Africa’s biggest economies are under pressure, particularly those with a heavy reliance on oil for their revenues. Here we’re talking about the likes of Nigeria and Angola – relatively important players in the African private aviation industry. They have suffered greatly since the global oil price plunged in late-2014.

Other big economies such as South Africa, Mozambique and Kenya have other challenges, yet the private aviation sector is apparently in a good space, mainly due to the fact that commercial aviation in Africa remains fairly limiting.

“There has been a dramatic rise in the amount of commercial aviation activity which reflects a growing economy, however commercial aviation is still very restricted on the routes that can be flown,” says Rady Fahmy, CEO of the African Business Aviation Association (AfBAA). “Often, if you need to get from point A to point B you have to fly via points C and D. What should be a simple two-hour flight between countries can turn into a day-long voyage, and because of this, business aviation is growing in importance across the continent, as executives realise that it is not a glamorous luxury, but a facilitator in conducting business.”

One could argue, then, that the continual lack of an over-arching ‘open skies’ policy on the continent just plays into the hands of the private aviation industry.

As Africa’s countries continue to protect their own turf – or rather skies – that just lays the foundation for the private aviation industry to thrive. No wonder the likes of international players such as ExecuJet were so keen to have a presence on the continent.

TIME

All of this makes Africa the perfect environment for private aviation and one in which the industry should thrive. The key issues here are privacy, security, time saving, cost-efficiency, and effectiveness, with the time element arguably the most important, particularly as it relates to travel in Africa.

“Time is money, and the ability to land on small strips off the commercial routes is incredibly valuable,” says Dylan Coppard, CEO of Angel Gabriel Aeronautics.

He argues that lost productivity, accommodation costs and the payment of per diems can all contribute to making a road journey for skilled professionals as expensive as chartering a plane.

“Most companies have failed to calculate the true cost to company when rejecting a charter flight, then rather making the decision for their employees and or subcontractors to drive,” says Coppard.

Cost has become an even more sensitive issue post-2008 global financial crisis, with corporates watching their pennies a lot more than they did in the past. Travel policies have tightened up, although sometimes at the expense of appreciating the real value of a private flight.

“People with a limited knowledge of booking charters will focus only on price,” says Nik Lloyd-Roberts, Commercial Manager at Federal Airlines, which is based near O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and offers a premium point to point shuttle service, along with customizable charter flights for both business and leisure travellers.

WHERE’S THE ACTION?

Within Africa, the market is firmly focused on economic hubs such as Egypt in the north, South Africa in the south, Kenya in the east, and Nigeria in the west, where business tourism and aircraft maintenance services are more easily available.

In West Africa, Lagos – where ExecuJet has a presence – is a hub for private air charter, while Johannesburg’s Lanseria International Airport is home to the majority of the charter business out of South Africa, which is the dominant African country in terms of private aviation fleet size. The privately- owned airport north-west of Johannesburg is home to a host of charter companies, including Comair Flight Services, ExecuJet, and National Airways Corporation.

Initially it was the hydro-carbon markets that really spurred growth in the African private aviation sector, so there was a rapid rise in business jet use in countries such as Nigeria and Angola. But, with the plunge in oil price, growth has slowed in these regions.

Private aviation, though, has ‘diversified’, with industries such as mining, agriculture, finance, telephony, medevac operations and tourism all maximizing the benefits of travelling by private plane.

When AfBAA launched five years ago, Ethiopia wasn’t deemed an active area, but by the middle of last year there was enough interest in the country to launch the Ethiopian Chapter of Africa, in response to the anticipated growth of the market there.

So, new areas of interest are opening up all the time, often related to the amount of development taking place in a particular region. It’s no surprise to learn of the Ethiopian development, as the country is one of Africa’s current ‘hot spots’ with regards hotel development, and there’s clearly a lot of interest in it from a business travel point of view.

So, those are some of the major private aviation bases. What about the destinations that clients are flying to and using this mode of transport as their ‘go-to’ option for?

“Our corporate clients are a mixed bag,” says Justin Reeves, CEO of Comair Flight Services. “Their specific destinations are dependent on wherever their companies are busy with projects at the time, and this changes. The leisure clients are still flying to Botswana, Namibia and Zambia a lot, and these have been popular safari destinations for many years. We are seeing a bit more flying to Zimbabwe lately, which was historically a nature lover’s paradise, but was avoided for a number of years for political and economic reasons.”

Interestingly, Reeves has some particularly strong views on Mozambique.

“It is becoming much less popular, as their civil aviation authorities have essentially made it impossible for foreign charter operators to obtain landing permissions in the country, under the pretence of supporting their own charter industry,” he says. “But they don’t have enough good quality aircraft that could do the job anyway and the pricing is prohibitive. So, like South Africa has also done in the past, the Mozambique authorities seem to be damaging their own tourism industry with regulations that have not been well thought through.”

The Reeves reference is probably to the goings-on at South Africa’s Home Affairs Department over the past few years, with the implementation of visa restrictions that made it increasingly difficult for travellers to travel to the country without having to fulfil costly and inefficient procedures, before sanity finally prevailed and the restrictions were relaxed.

Now Reeves finds himself unimpressed with the South African Civil Aviation Authority’s introduction of a new regulation: Part 93 – Owner/Corporate Flight Operations. It’s a fairly lengthy and detailed document outlining flight and cabin crew qualifications and training, flight time and duty limitations, documentation and records that need to be kept, cabin safety, maintenance control, and the requirements for a quality management system, among many other aspects of the business.

“The new Part 93 regulations are onerous and totally impractical for aircraft owners to comply with,” says Reeves. “Whilst charter clients are largely unaffected, the indirect consequences are that aircraft owners may choose to sell their aircraft rather than comply with Part 93, and this will further diminish the already shrinking supply of new, good quality charter aircraft in South Africa.”

The South African private aviation industry clearly has some challenges ahead, but it remains the most mature industry on the continent. The rest of the continent’s countries are playing catch-up and developing their industries at different paces.

“One of the fascinating things about Africa is that it is made up of 54 countries which are developing at different rates and paces, making it a challenge to predict where the next growth element will come from,” says Fahmy.

AIRCRAFT

So, who is using what, in terms of private aircraft?

“Our corporate clients are always looking for value for money,” says Reeves. “For domestic and regional flights of up to four hours, the Nextant 400XT offers them exactly that, and it seats six passengers comfortably. For longer range flights, the Challenger 300 and Hawker 4000 are ideal aircraft for up to eight passengers. This includes a cabin attendant essential for longer range flights and both aircraft can fly to Europe with only one en route fuel stop.”

“We have seen an increase in the turboprop market (propeller aircrafts) in South Africa due to clients travelling to remote areas,” says Gavin Kiggen, Director Aviation at ExecuJet.

The turboprop’s biggest advantage is that it’s comfortable on shorter runways, requiring much less space for take-offs and landings. Together with its fleet of helicopters, ExecuJet’s turboprops service unlicensed airfields, game lodges and other outlying areas.

Lloyd-Roberts would probably agree with Kiggen, as Federal Airlines fairly recently purchased its own turboprop aircraft in the form of a Pilatus PC-12. Prior to November, Federal Air had leased their PC-12s, but with its suitability for flights to bush lodges and often unimproved airstrips, the airline decided to invest in its own aircraft.

“The acquisition forms part of the airline’s long-term strategy to purchase aircraft, first of which was the PC- 12,” says Lloyd-Roberts.

Ideal for landing on short or dirt airstrips, the PC-12 is a single-engine turboprop aircraft, designed for multiple roles and to deliver equal performance to twin-engine aircraft. It is one of the few pressurized turbine-powered aircraft capable of operating from rough landing strips. Federal Airlines has configured their PC-12 to accommodate nine passengers in a comfortable commuter configuration, with a baggage area at the rear of the cabin. The aircraft will be used for both charters and the shuttle service provided to between 130 and 150 lodges in South Africa and neighbouring countries, including Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia.

Reeves is on the same page.

“Our leisure clients love the speed and economy of the 11 single engine Pilatus PC-12 turboprops that we operate and which are ideal for flying safaris,” he says. “They’re able to land on gravel or grass runways, allowing them to land at the game lodges without the need for lengthy road transfers. For those seeking a twin engine option, we have a King Air 90 GTx as well as two King Air 200s.”

THE FUTURE?

So, where is the industry headed and where could we be in, say, five years’ time?

“I think it will be smaller, more compact and competitive,” says Lloyd-Roberts. “That would be through various mergers and acquisitions. Federal Airlines recently entered into a joint venture with a smaller aviation outfit in a strategic location in South Africa which will grow passenger numbers and offer the travel trade greater safari connections.”

Kiggen has a similar view.

“We see a lot more consolidation and collaboration within the industry by operators,” he says.

“There are a few key indicators that will drive growth in our industry,” Kiggen goes on to say. “As a continent that is reliant on commodities, it is only natural that if the base metal prices improve and start to climb, we can anticipate accelerated capital expenditure (mines), which would translate to activity in the private aviation industry.”

Reeves remains concerned about what is happening in his own backyard.

“The future, sadly, is up to our government and how it deals with impractical and unachievable policies, including BBBEE sector code targets that are virtually impossible for a SMME to achieve,” he says. “CFS has seen exponential growth in other African states in the past two years and it may be simpler and more lucrative to focus on international expansion if South Africa becomes a stagnant market due to political pressures. We are a truly proudly South African business and we hope that we can support our local economy and grow domestically, but local industry needs to be supported by government, and I’d say we are at the moment growing our business despite our government, rather than because of our government.”

What’s clear is that the African private aviation industry is set to be an interesting space over the next five years.

FIVE PRIVATE JETS THAT WILL SOON HIT THE INTERNATIONAL MARKET
Aerion AS2

Aerion is intent on making supersonic flight possible again, after the closure of Concorde in 2003. When the AS2 enters operation, it will be capable of reaching Mach 1.4, shaving valuable hours from long-haul flights. It’s a pricey number, with the first buyers paying $120 million in 2015.

Bombardier Global 8000

The furthest flying business jet ever conceived, the Global 8000 offers industry-leading range. Not quite as fast as the AS2 at Mach 0.925, its reach is greater – the 7,900 nautical mile range connects some of the world’s most expansive city pairings, including Los Angeles-Dubai, Sydney-Sao Paulo, and Tokyo-San Juan.

Cessna Citation Hemisphere

The Citation Hemisphere is the latest – and largest – private jet from Cessna. Specifications include seating for up to 19 passengers, a fully flat cabin floor, six foot two inch ceiling, dual skylights, and a pressurised baggage area accessible from inside the aircraft.

Dassault Falcon 5X

At an estimated cost of $45 million, the Falcon 5X is expected to bridge the gap between the Falcon 2000 series and the larger Gulfstream G450. But you’ll have to wait a while to get your hands on one. The earliest possible release date is 2020.

Pilatus PC-24

The Pilatus PC-12 was so successful that a light jet was the next logical step. The PC-24 shares many characteristics of the PC-12, resulting in what the company calls a ‘Super Versatile Jet’ – a light business jet with a side cargo door that can land on unpaved strips.

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