Q & A: Flying Above the Radar

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ExecuJet is a global business aviation organisation offering a wide range of services, including aircraft management for private and commercial registered aircraft, aircraft charter, aircraft maintenance, aircraft completions management and fixed base operations. It has offices in six regions, and its Africa operation has made big strides in recent years, with the establishment of a facility in Lagos, which was recently beefed up to offer customs and immigration facilities. Africa MD Ettore Poggi joined editor Dylan Rogers for a chat.

Q: Is it a good time to be in private aviation in Africa?

A: Yes, provided that one can manage the risk of venturing into somewhat unknown territories. That is why we choose to work with reputable partners. It’s a good time, because of the abundant availability of mineral resources, coupled  with relatively poor transport infrastructure. As a result, Africa has been identified by all business aircraft manufacturers and private aviation companies as a fast growing market.

Q: Have you stolen a march on your competitors by beefing up your Nigerian operation?

A: That’s difficult to tell. We do have a world class facility and excellent staff. We are also the appointed Authorised Maintenance Facility for a number of manufacturers and have good relationships with many international operators. From that perspective we have a good advantage, but to say we have stolen a march would be very presumptuous and arrogant.

Q: What precipitated the recent move to offer customs and immigration facilities at your Lagos facility?

A: Quite simply, it was to provide the private business traveller with faster and more efficient services, and to attract more investors.

Q: Just how much potential does the West African market have?

A: Africa has historically not been a big growth area for business aviation, but with globalisation and the discovery of vast mineral resources, many international resource companies are investing in Africa. Along with this, many other industries, such as banking, IT, consumables etc are expanding and growing quickly. It is expected that over 400 private business aircraft will be delivered on the continent between 2013 and 2022. That’s over 40 per year, many of which will be available for charter.

Q: Has the poor quality and reputation of the region’s commercial airlines played into your hands?

A: Yes, coupled with a poor route network. But, I do see aviation authorities focusing heavily on the improvement of safety standards.

Q: Further south, are you happy with the level of awareness of the South African business travel industry, regarding your offering?

A: In the past few years we have made good progress in this regard. I do think however that an increased awareness of safety and service standards is still lacking. Although the cost of charter is no doubt an important factor in the decision process, safety standards are equally if not more important. As a charter client, I would insist on the following: seeing certificates of approval from regulatory bodies and International Safety Auditing companies; understanding the experience of the pilots and the safety training records; knowing that the aircraft is maintained by a reputable maintenance organisation.

Q: How competitive is the South African private aviation industry?

A: Very, although we have seen some fallout since 2008. Companies compete for a small pool of good skills and a local customer base that has not grown significantly since the recession of 2008-2009.

Q: Do you still face a challenge convincing the South African business travel industry of the benefits and value of private aviation?

A: I think we have come a long way in recent years. South Africa’s growing importance as the launch pad for the expansion of many international businesses into Africa has helped. Many of these companies understand these sometimes intangible advantages such as not being tied to a commercial schedule, time savings, privacy and security. The growing luxury tourist industry has also helped.

Q: Is private aviation still seen as a luxury? If so, how do you change this perception?

A: The perception is changing and more individuals and companies are acknowledging that private aviation, used correctly, can be a significant business tool, and can provide significant competitive advantage. Time, safety and security are all ‘money’.

Q: What does the future hold for privation aviation in Africa, and what will ensure its success?

A: The growing African economy will help ensure success. In the not too distant future, Africa will be a continent that can compete with other currently wealthier continents. We have all the resources and potential – all we need is the political will to harness this wealth.