Big Skies Open for Business

posted on 14th May 2019
Big Skies Open for Business

Africa embraced aviation almost as soon as practical flying machines emerged but, until recently, business aircraft were rare across most of the continent. Now that situation is changing, as Dawit Lemma, CEO of Ethiopia’s Krimson, explains

Africa’s varied, rugged, ever changing landscape suits it ideally to aviation. The needs of its widely separated communities, conservation and tourism have traditionally been served by a rugged collection of general aviation machines, trusty pistons and turboprops, following the best traditions of bush flying but sometimes without the regulation to match.

There has also been a historic trend for old aircraft, having served their useful lives with operators in the major economies, to find their way onto African registers, there to fly on under dubious jurisdiction. Look back a couple of decades and even the continent’s relatively few private jets were mostly ageing.

Africa has also seen more than its fair share of natural and man-made disaster, but the future for many of its countries looks increasingly bright and it now boasts some of the world’s most rapidly expanding economies. The continent’s big skies – it straddles the equator and its skies are, as a result, literally bigger – are beginning to reverberate with the sound of well-regulated business jets.

Among Africa’s greatest business aviation proponents, Dawit Lemma founded Krimson, an aviation services company, at Addis Ababa Bole International airport in 2015. From the outset, his intention was to serve clients with integrity and excellence. His team offers 24/7 support, providing services including ground handling, flight support, refuelling, charter brokerage and aviation communications. Crucially, many of Krimson’s international customers realise the advantage of its local expertise in Ethiopia and across Africa.

Lemma, a US-educated, Swiss citizen of Ethiopian origins, has also lived in Zambia and Malawi. A former aircraft mechanic, he began his aviation career at TAG, is a qualified pilot and also President of the African Business Aviation Association (AfBAA) Ethiopian Chapter, having taken a key role in AfBAA’s development.

Describing Krimson, he says: “We’ve introduced Swiss efficiency to the Ethiopian landscape, giving our clients real confidence and enabling us to manage even the most complex of challenges.” In rising to those challenges, Krimson is also clearing the way for others, pioneering new operating procedures that are helping the region’s business and general aviation communities mature.

“An example that really sticks in my mind was a medical evacuation out of Gondar,” he recalls. “It required significant coordination with multiple authorities, the medevac operator and a local air ambulance service. We used our flight support and charter brokerage services in the same operation, and the passenger received the medical attention she needed. We also established precedents now used by all operators and agencies when faced with similar circumstances.”

Krimson’s success in itself might be sufficient to signpost Africa’s way ahead but Lemma, blessed with seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm, seems to have become something of an accidental aviation ambassador for the continent. He explains: “We must be careful not to generalise, because Africa is such a big continent, with large disparities between neighbouring countries. But to help understand it, it’s useful to divide it into categories.

“There’s the South African market, which is very much a developed, ‘standard’ modern business and general aviation market. Then there’s a market like Nigeria, which is purely high-net worth individuals, and oil and gas, which makes for volatility. But I think neither of these markets properly represents Africa.

“For me, Africa is currently a commercial general aviation region. It’s in a nascent phase represented very well by Kenya. It has a few jets, but also the second largest fleet of non-commercial airline types in Africa, most of them turboprop. Considering the available infrastructure, it makes sense, while the demand tends to be for aircraft moving goods and people, including tourists, from remote areas to urban or trade locations; it’s really not a jet market, although we are seeing an increase in helicopters.”

A progression in services, particularly for tourists, can be imagined from Caravan, say, through PC-12 and perhaps PC-24, increasingly making the flight an experience part of a holiday, rather than the ‘bus ride’ in between locations. From there, hard runways for more and/or larger jets might follow, but Lemma is cautious.

“Addis Ababa Bole is saturated and local GA operators sometimes hold for an hour waiting to take off. The community asked for and was given permission for a new GA airport, but has to build it, and that type of infrastructure development has to remain a long-term vision, because Africa’s operators are still focussed on the near and mid-term.”

Yet of the top ten growing economies, five are in Africa, with Ethiopia’s the largest. And that’s delivering tangible benefits to the region’s business aviation companies. “We’re seeing investors coming in for the day with their private jets, completing their business and then flying out. It’s creating awareness of what business aviation is about – five years ago, people would have questioned why that individual didn’t come in on Ethiopian Airlines. Now they understand that it’s a time-saving tool, not a luxury, and the more of those flights we have, the better the perception. There’s still a long way to go, but the door is definitely cracking open.”

Setting the Standard

Business aviation standards are rising across Africa and none more so than at Angola-based Bestfly which, on 4 March 2019, became the country’s first business aviation company to achieve IS-BAO Stage 2 accreditation. It also places Bestfly among very few African companies to achieve the standard.

IS-BAO Stage 1, awarded to Bestfly in May 2017, confirmed the business had closely reviewed its operations to establish and follow a safety management system (SMS) to meet the standards required for IS-BAO certification.

The Stage 2 audit assessed the maturity of that SMS, and the subsequent certification also acknowledges that Bestfly is delivering a level of service that meets the sector’s exacting international standards.

Nuno Pereira, CEO, Bestfly said: “As Angola – and Africa – continue to develop their business aviation sectors, I hope more African companies will be inspired to achieve IS-BAO accreditation. Stage 2 accreditation gives our international clients the assurance that we operate to the same high standards as other leading international business aviation organisations.”

Bestfly has also been certified by the Angolan CAA and Aruban Department of Civil Aviation, holding AOCs from each. As well as being audited and approved by leading oil and gas companies, it also holds Third Country Operators approval from EASA.


Fuelling Africa

On 1 May Valcora, the Switzerland-headquartered fuel purchasing service, opened a new office in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two-person operation is tasked with raising the company’s profile in the region, highlighting the benefits of its technically sophisticated, simple to use fuel purchasing system across the continent.

Valcora’s extensive experience in handling the complexities of European taxes is particularly valuable to African operators flying to Europe, the company’s intelligent system automatically calculating fiscal obligations, ensuring customer tax commitments are correctly and fairly determined to optimise operating budgets.

Daniel Coetzer, Valcora CEO and South African national, noted: “Africa’s growing business aviation sector needs access to easy, international fuel purchasing options to support its continued growth. Johannesburg provides the perfect springboard from which to support this need, with an established business infrastructure, reliable banking institutions and an excellent pool of people from which to hire in support of our own business growth.”


Pioneering Growth

Back in December 2018, Krimson attained one of the first new business aviation licenses issued by the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority. Helping smooth the way forward in the developing sector, the permits were created to establish a transparent regulatory framework that supports fair processing of flight permits and ground handling services by operators or agents. Krimson was awarded the paperwork after a rigorous application and validation process that certified it to standards comparable to accepted ICAO service levels.

A limited number of licenses is being released and they are required for any business taking a flight support role, including processing of landing permits, making immigration arrangements, arranging travel and hotel accommodation, aircraft refuelling and any other service facilitating aviation activity.

Krimson had further cause to celebrate on 5 February 2019, when it handled its 150th flight since opening for business in 2015. The milestone welcomed a Bestfly-managed Global Express to Krimson’s Addis Ababa Bole International Airport base. The Krimson team arranged landing permits, fuelling, crew hotel accommodation and ground transportation for the flight.

It demonstrated not only Krimson’s rapid growth, but also the expansion of Africa’s business aviation sector. In its first two years of operation, Krimson handled just 17 flights, but looks set to manage 200 flights and obtain 300 permits in 2019 alone.

For that growth to continue and Africa’s business and general aviation sectors to be sustained in accordance with international standards, the continent needs to begin nurturing a new generation of aviation professionals. Dawit Lemma, Krimson’s CEO, has taken the first steps towards creating tomorrow’s workforce, this spring taking up a volunteer position teaching students taking the Brevet d’Initiation Aéronautique course at the Lycée Guébré-Mariam, an Ethio-French school in Addis Ababa, taking Francophone pupils from nursery up to high school age. Lemma shares the weekly two-hour sessions with Pierre Lucas, United Nations Humanitarian Air Service, Chief – Ethiopia.

After successfully completing the one-year course and passing a standardised examination, students receive credit towards their private pilots license. “Sharing our knowledge with the students is a real joy for us,” Lemma said, “and more importantly it helps them understand the practical reality of working in the aviation sector.”

The course includes field trips, among them a recent visit to Ethiopian Airlines’ headquarters in Addis Ababa, which has an extensive aviation academy. “The visit gave the children the opportunity to see first-hand the high standards of professionalism maintained by the aviation industry in Ethiopia. It really inspired them, and it was great to witness their enthusiasm.”