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International aviation hub set to soar

Article - August 1, 2014
The successful construction of a high-tech airport close to Luanda that will be able to welcome 13 million passengers per year leads Angola’s ambitious yet realistic aviation aims
ANGOLA
It’s no easy job getting a nation’s commercial aviation sector off the ground but in the case of Angola substantial reasons exist for concluding that the opportunities clearly outweigh the challenges.

Granted, there is no shortage of the latter, starting with the ever-steepening cost of the fuel needed to cover the distances in regional and even domestic flights. Angola’s size and patterns of population distribution leave authorities little choice, however. At the present time major upgrades, mostly involving improved communications systems, are underway at no less than fourteen provincial airports, with four more on the waiting list.

The good news is that Luanda’s new world-class air terminal has been designed with the aim of eventually becoming a major regional and international hub. The existing airport serving the Angolan capital has long been operating beyond capacity, acknowledges Manuel Ceita, chairman of ENANA, the National Enterprise for Airport Operation and Air Traffic Control, so there was no question of waiting.

It was decided to build an entirely new complex at a location 25 miles southeast of Luanda “to accommodate more passengers and modernize at the same time, building it in a way that leaves open the possibility of further expansion that will transform it into a full-service regional and international hub.”

“At TAAG we understand that responding to the challenge of being an international hub involves the highest standards of customer service”

JOAQUIM TEIXEIRA DA CUNHA
CEO of TAAG

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“The ICAO and the IATA have successfully audited TAAG and the quality of its services has been levelled up across the board”

MARIO MIGUEL DOMINGUES
Secretary of State for Civil Aviation
China has provided financing, manpower and technical expertise for six years of intensive construction and infrastructure work that includes rapid road and rail connections. The first stage is nearing completion and includes the large passenger terminal, VIP terminal, control tower and emergency services. Each of the twin runways can accommodate the largest commercial aircraft currently in operation, the Airbus 380 and eventually, says Mr. Ceita, the airport should be able to comfortably handle 13 million passengers and 600,000 tons of freight per year.

“Angola is strategically positioned and has a great many cultural and tourism-related attractions as well as its fascinating people,“ he says. “Airlines would do well to take these factors into account and consider using Luanda as a destination or a connection point for other countries, it would slash their fuel costs. Angola has everything it takes to become an air travel hub and I don’t mean just for Central and Southern Africa.”

Making sure that all relevant legal concerns are addressed falls on INAVIC, the National Institute of Civil Aviation. Its parent body, the Ministry of Transport, placed it in charge of day-to day supervisory activities involving regulations, pro-active safety measures, compliance with international standards, as well as interfacing with international organizations such as IATA. In short, anything normative regarding civil aviation is fair game for INAVIC’s experts, who take their mission seriously enough to have suspended the licenses of six local charter companies so far this year.

According to Joaquim Teixeira da Cunha, CEO of Angola’s state-owned air carrier TAAG, fuel issues to one side, Angola has pretty much everything it needs to succeed in Africa’s fledgling aviation market, starting with plenty of room to grow on a continent that at present handles a mere two percent of the world’s commercial air traffic.

“TAAG is constantly innovating in order to provide better services to our passengers,“ says Dr. Cunha. “We have defined a market and begun modernizing our fleet with the latest equipment. Our older aircraft were burning 10 tons of fuel per hour, but the ones we have recently acquired are consuming six tons while the planes themselves are considerably larger and quieter.”

MANUEL CEITA

Chairman of ENANA

Another of the hard facts of life that TAAG, and other carriers, have to cope with is that airplanes require airports, expensive items that tend to slip to the bottom of the government’s to-do list in countries where the delivery of essential social services is still a challenge.

Dr. Cunha points out that investment in Africa’s civil aviation sector grew by 4% in 2012, but the number of passengers grew by one point more.

For all of sub-Saharan Africa, the forecasts say the number of passengers will continue to grow by 7% annually. That tendency is reflected by TAAG’s own performance, both inside Angola, where it services 12 destinations, and the 17 international cities that it flies to. The company expects to close the books on 2014 with 1.5 million passengers, representing a 43 per cent rise over 2010.

Secretary of State for Civil Aviation Mario Domingues confirms that TAAG has all the qualifications required to fly anywhere, including to the USA.

“The ICAO and the IATA have successfully audited TAAG and the quality of its services has been levelled up across the board,” he says. “The company has ordered new aircraft and other equipment aiming to enhancing its overall level of quality.”
Dr. Cunha agrees it makes no sense to build an international hub at Luanda without a strong, competitive national flag carrier as anchor and between 2002 and 2013 TAAG quadrupled its service offering and is preparing for future challenges on acquiring three Boeing 777-300 aircraft.

“Angola is strategically positioned and has a great many cultural and tourism-related attractions as well as its fascinating people”

MANUEL CEITA
Chairman of ENANA
The selection and training of qualified staff is also of high importance and Dr. Cunha says his company is committed to it. “At TAAG we understand that responding to the challenge of being an international hub involves the highest standards of customer service,” he says.

“Last year, we had our people undergo 5000 hours of training by a company called Lunar DT and sent a third group of our pilots for additional training in South Africa.”

In the near future, adds Dr. Cunha, TAAG want to organize a training academy for all airline personnel that would also be open to other airlines, saying: “we believe that for the company to grow, we must also prepare our staff to make that growth possible.”

And he does not doubt that TAAG’s safety measures are as good as anyone’s and better than others. “Our planes were banned from European air space in 2007 and the ban was not lifted until 2010, when TAAG successfully passed international safety and operational audits and the company’s international credibility was restored,” he says. “Once that was taken care of, we could and did turn our attention to restructuring in other support areas such as administration, management, finance and human resources, which is basically where we are at present.”

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