in Air Transport / Features

Air Djibouti flies again

Posted 23 October 2015 · Add Comment

Another step in the ambitious plan to make Djibouti the logistics hub of northeast Africa has been taken with the launch of a new airline in the tiny nation. Alan Dron reports.

Thirteen years after the name Air Djibouti last flew over Africa, it took to the air again in early August when a Fokker 27 freighter, leased from Kenya’s Astral Aviation, departed Ambouli International Airport for Hargeisa and Mogadishu in Somalia.
The last Air Djibouti went out of business in 2002. Its successor is starting modestly, but has big plans for the future.
Air Djibouti is a venture owned 70:30 by Djibouti Ports and Free Zone Authority (DPFZA) and Aéroport International de Djibouti (AID). UK-based aircraft services and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) company, Cardiff Aviation, is providing technical assistance and management.
Air Djibouti’s operations will mesh with those of the country’s sea container terminal as the African nation seeks to establish itself as a major logistics centre for the region. China is providing significant investment to help realise Djibouti’s ambitions. Chinese companies are believed to be investing some $12 billion to build two new airports, a railway line to land-locked neighbour Ethiopia, and no fewer than six new seaports.
 With this in mind, the Djiboutian national carrier will initially focus on regional freight services, with Nairobi and Juba, the capitals of Kenya and South Sudan respectively, being among its next destinations, joining Hargeisa and Mogadishu.
“We’re doing a three-month trial period to test the routes, to see what we can generate,” said Jibril Ali Hussein, business development director at DPFZA. “The aircraft will be coming in via Dubai, and then airlifting cargo to Hargeisa and Mogadishu, plus Juba.”
There are already plans to step up from the twin turboprop F27. “The next phase is to do sea-air cargo movements with a Boeing 737 or any other suitable aircraft freighter that can go as far as Lagos in Nigeria. We want to bring containers into Djibouti, and then airlift high-value goods, such as electronics, spare parts and luxury items, to land-locked countries in central and West Africa.”
Assuming the initial three-month trial period goes well, the airline will then look at sourcing further aircraft to undertake passenger flights to destinations such as Dubai, Mumbai, Paris and London.
In the early days of introducing passenger services, a Boeing 737QC (quick change) aircraft that can handle both passengers and cargo is a possible acquisition. Hussein said that up to five aircraft, possibly a mix of Boeing 737s, 757s and 767s, will be considered.
However, the current focus is very much on freight operations. Most of the cargo coming into Africa arrives in Dubai and is airlifted from there. A cargo vessel sailing between Dubai and Djibouti takes three days; the Djibouti authorities want to attract increasing levels of freight to their own container port.
Cardiff Aviation will provide management expertise for the young airline: “We don’t have any experience and we wanted to do this as well as possible with experienced people in key positions,” said Hussein. All other staff are Djiboutian. This will eventually be phased out and our objective is to have Djiboutian nationals in key positions.
A memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Cardiff Aviation was signed in June. Under the deal, Cardiff Aviation secured a European-level Air Operator’s Certificate for Air Djibouti. It will also source aircraft and provide operational management.
“Djibouti is uniquely placed to provide a hub for investment from Europe, the Middle East and Asia into Africa,” said Cardiff Aviation chairman, Bruce Dickinson. “By providing full airline support and project implementation to Air Djibouti, Cardiff Aviation will bring a wealth of industry expertise and capability to one of the most exciting aviation markets in the world, to spearhead growth in a region with tremendous potential.”
In an interview with the BBC, Dickinson said he hoped that Air Djibouti would help increase awareness of the African nation. “Djibouti is an amazing country but many people do not know about it,” he said. “A national airline has an ambassadorial role wherever it flies from.”
Air Djibouti will face early competition from one of the Arabian Gulf’s ‘Big Three’ airlines, Qatar Airways, which announced in August that its rapidly expanding cargo arm would start a weekly Airbus A330F service from Qatar to Djibouti.
 

    

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