Angola has steadily become one of Africa's most prominent business aviation hubs and that is down to one couple – Nuno and Alcinda Pereira, the founding partners of Bestfly Flight Support. Marcella Nethersole reports.
From a history of slavery and civil wars, Angola has been through a lot. But the southern African nation has been putting itself back together after suffering a 27-year civil war that ravaged the country after independence.
Today, the former Portuguese colony is rich in natural resources and enjoying a general sense of redevelopment and progress, including a surge of business travellers and a slow but steady growth of tourists.
One man who cannot be prouder of his heritage and is testament to the Angolan success story is Nuno Pereira, managing director of Bestfly Flight Support.
Established by Pereira and his wife Alcinda – the company’s executive director – in 2009, the VIP handling agent has Angola’s first and only fixed-base operation (FBO) terminal.
“My background is in aviation,” said Pereira. “I have been in the industry for the last 18 years – mainly flying. I have about 14,000 hours of flying time and have flown most jets, from the Boeing 777 and 747 to business jets and cargo.”
Angola’s national carrier, TAAG Angola Airlines, is state-owned and based in the capital, Luanda. It serves much of Africa, as well as international routes. Pereira flew for the carrier.
Due to his aviation background, passion for flying and pride of his country, Pereira felt that Angola’s aviation industry would become even more economically successful with its own FBO.
“I thought there was something missing,” said Pereira. “I thought of the idea to open the FBO as Angola needed it. It had needed it for a long time and I could see that. Due to my background, I knew what could be done and knew I could do it, so Bestfly Flight Support was born.”
Pereira was conscious that, while it is good to make money, it was really a project he and his wife, an ex- NetJets Europe customer service representative, wanted to make into a success story for their country.
“We started out as a VIP ground-handing agent with no facility, so used the airport in Luanda,” he explained. “For us to be approved it took two years. We finally opened in 2012.
“Of course I want a successful business, but, for us, we wanted to help change the perception of Angola and get people to think of it in a positive way rather than the negative history of slavery, wars, landmines and poverty.
“Yes, many Angolans live on less than a $1 a day but the country is now one of Africa’s leading oil producers and it is experiencing a post-war reconstruction boom. It is also a beautiful country – especially in the south – and more hotels are being built and more tourists are arriving.”
Today, the FBO is the most recognised brand in business aviation handling in Angola, with a market share of close to 80%.
“The first money we received, we made sure we invested in the company. Now we have a hangar that fits eight aircraft, we have 13 aircraft in operation, and we handle 15-20 flights a day,” Pereira said.
“We offer everything from basic aircraft handling and aircraft charter and management to fuel services, maintenance, flight planning, over-flight and landing permits, crew services and transfers, passenger assistance, and hotel reservations.
“Our facility in Luanda is state-of-the-art and it takes guests only five minutes from leaving the aircraft to be outside of the airport. We offer VIP catering from nearby five-star hotels and we are currently planning on opening our own catering facility.”
The team comprises highly experienced professionals with more than 20 years’ experience, capable of organising both domestic and international flights.
“All our operational staff are duly certified. That allows us to create a dynamic and pro-active organisation. Our goal is to anticipate any possible problems, not allowing them to actually occur,” said Pereira.
BestFly also serves four other airports in the country – Lubango, Benguela, Catumbela and at Cabinda, where it is the sole and designated handling agent for both private and commercial aircraft.
Since April 2015, Bestfly has been recognised as the first ground-handler/FBO in Angola to have its own dedicated fuel bowser.
“With this, we can assure that quality and efficiency of service will increase significantly,” said Pereira. “We provide fuel at the best possible price; although price is always dependent on the suppliers. This service will assure a superior level of efficiency where the coordination with the fuel supplier company, Sonangol, will be completed by one of our agents to ensure on-time fuelling in order to avoid unnecessary delays.”
Pereira said the bowser has already fuelled aircraft up to Airbus Corporate Jet ACJ320 in size. For larger aircraft, Sonangol will provide a second bowser as needed.
“Our customers have an improved experience as a result of the deal and we are delighted to be one of the few FBOs in Africa that can supply aviation fuel direct to the aircraft. It’s still unusual on the continent for an FBO to control its fuel supply but we hope this is the start of a trend.”
The company was recently selected by Chevron, through its subsidiary, Cabinda Gulf Oil Company (CABGOC), to provide all ground- handling and flight support services to its entire aviation-related operations in Angola. The three- year contract covers the complete Chevron fleet of four Bombardier Dash-8 Q400 aircraft, and 10 Bell Helicopters, which serve its offshore operations at its oil-producing base in Malongo.
BestFly does come across the odd hurdle though.
The Angolan Government has put in place tough financial restrictions, which has affected all foreign exchange transactions.
So how do Pereira and his customers cope with that?
“We operate in Angolan currency and US dollars – but the difficulty is due to the banking restrictions and the oil crises. To make transfers abroad is the biggest hurdle we face for sure,” said Pereira. “We can receive dollars but, if we need to pay out, then we have a problem. We can’t see this changing as yet due to the Angolan economy, as the cash reserves are depleted. So this needs to be addressed, but we are confident something will be done in time.”
Looking to the future, Pereira was excited to announce BestFly Flight Support has been FBO- approved for the new Luanda International Airport.
“The airport is due to open in 2017 and we are currently inviting proposals from builders to construct the FBO. It will be an excellent service, with more ramp space and more capacity,” said Pereira. “It’s been hard work for all the team to get where we are. Angola has received such bad news at times, which has not always been justified. But I am happy to sit here and say we have seen the change of perspective in recent years and we believe Bestfly Flight Support has helped with that change.”