In 2006, Geoff White launched airline Fly540 — which now serves over a quarter-million passengers. Perhaps no surprise here, in that it uses remote airports. But Fly540 flies in Africa.
“People’s initial reaction when I say I’m in the aviation business in Africa is to cringe,” explains White, who is British. “Africa now has one billion people who need to travel, and since infrastructure is often very poor, they need to fly. Africa desperately needs a high-quality airline.” From its hub in Nairobi, Fly540 flies sleek Airbus planes to Burundi, Tanzania, South Sudan and Rwanda.
“There have been more accidents in Africa than in any other region of the world,” says Robert Wall, Paris bureau chief for Aviation Week. “But African air travel in general isn’t unsafe, and overall the situation is getting better.”
But the Afriqiyah Airways crash in May involved a new Airbus 330, in operation for merely eight months. And safety concerns in African aviation are still so common that the European Commission recently banned more than 100 African airlines, including every DRC-based [Democratic Republic of the Congo] airline, from flying to the European Union.
Another problem facing African airlines is personnel. European and Middle Eastern airlines routinely recruit Africa’s best pilots and cabin crew. At one African airline, the CEO’s new strategy is to hire mothers as flight attendants, since they’re less likely to pack up and leave.
But in other ways, Africa is becoming like the Middle East. Thanks to its oil, Angola is flush with cash, some of which has been invested in Luanda’s Quatro de Fevereiro airport. This is a prudent move, as Luanda can boast several embarrassing incidents: In 2003, a Boeing 727 was stolen from the airport, and last year a plane drove into a parked British Airways aircraft.