Thanks to a buoyant market, this public company has inserted itself into the national consciousness over the last two years. In 2018, it will launch on to the regional market. Can this successful company and its management survive the endemic chaos that is DR Congo?
Congo Airways was born in October 2015. In 2016 it carried 208,000 passengers and earned revenues of 36 million Dollars. In 2017 it carried 365,000 passengers and earned revenues of 77 million Dollars equal to about 64 million Euros. This performance has made Désiré Balazire, its Director General since May 2016, confident in the company's ability to reach its objectives for 2018: to surpass 400,000 passengers and 99 million Dollars of revenue.
"We have plans to be profitable by mid-2019”, he said. Certainly, the country's domestic market, where Congo Airways serves ten cities, is naturally buoyant. DR Congo has a population of 80 million inhabitants in one of Africa's largest territories (four times the size of France). The cities are isolated and by air is the most convenient route to travel. "Before us, passengers had to pass through Nairobi or Addis Ababa to go from Kinshasa to Lubumbashi or Goma”, said Désiré Balazire.
The company, owned by the state and by operators such as the mining company Gecamines, "is the only one to use aircraft with more than 150 seats," insists the DG. Its main private rival, Fly CAA, has put its Airbus A320 and A321 into storage and uses only Fokker 50 with less than 60 seats. This encourages the "Flying Leopard" to exploit the regional opportunities. This year, the company will open a route firstly to Johannesburg and then intends by the end of 2019 to be present in Cape Town, Lusaka, Harare, Dar es Salaam, Bujumbura, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Bangui, Douala, Cotonou, Abidjan, Pointe-Noire and Luanda. After that, in 2020, will come intercontinental routes to Paris, Dubai or Canton.
To meet these ambitions, their fleet will include ten aircraft. "It's logical, it's the threshold under which a company cannot survive”, said one manufacturer. The owner of two A320s and two Bombardier Q400s, the carrier intends to lease four new A320s and two Dreamliners, as well as smaller aircraft for short links. "To achieve this, it must convince its lenders, the banks, of its financial strength”, said the aircraft manufacturer.
On the EU's black list
This is a country on the EU's black list (71 crashes, 234 deaths between 2008 and 2016). However, although it has been the graveyard of many carriers such as Korhogo Airways, a subsidiary of Brussels Airlines, who ceased in 2015, Congo Airways has succeeded. Its financial and managerial discipline is reassuring financial players, manufacturers and subcontractors.
"We had anticipated $ 22 million in losses in 2017; by the end of October, we were only 6 million down”, reported the DG who is an accountant by training and was a macro business advisor to the prime ministerial office. Savings have been generated by eliminating catering on flights of less than one hour. Agents' salaries have been reduced by 17%. The workforce has decreased from 426 to 329 employees. The company has shown transparency combined with anti-fraud procedures and a scrupulous compliance with international safety standards.
Already audited by the EU, by the oil company Total and by several mining companies, Congo Airways is expected to be awarded its IOSA certificate (IATA Operational Safety Audit) by the end of February, which is essential for operating in Europe. However, the question is will these good practices survive the political instability in the country? Much of the answer lies in the government's support. "Until the departure of the Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo in November 2016, Congo Airways had benefited from his support, which had preserved the company from the nepotism at the heart of the ruin of so many companies”, noted an observer. Today, this DG is somewhat isolated in his efforts to ensure good governance.
Nouvelair in support
On January 15, 2018, Congo Airways will sign a contract with the private Tunisian company Nouvelair for the five-month lease of an A320. The latter will provide the aircraft with pilots, instructors and commercial cabin crew leaders. In 2016, fifteen Tunisian experts had assisted Congo Airways in setting up security procedures.