Slovenian private jet operator and manager, Elit'Avia, is building up its business in the west African marketplace, despite the challenges facing business aviation in the region. Alan Dron reports.
It’s a long way from the cool grey stone and red tile roofs of the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana to the heat and energy of Accra, but Elit’Avia made the transition several years ago and is gradually expanding its activities in the Ghanaian capital.
The Slovenian operator, which runs a mixed fleet of Gulfstreams, Hawkers, Challengers and Falcons, moved into west Africa after responding to a tender to create an air transportation service for a client who wanted to operate an aircraft in the region.
“Due to the lack of fixed-based operation (FBO) facilities in Accra, we decided to open our own facility with an Elit’Avia team, located in offices a few minutes away from the airport in East Lagon,” said president and CEO Michel Coulomb.
“The Ghana operation started in February 2012 and allowed us to build on the charter market there,” although the company had been active in the aircraft sales market in the region for some time beforehand.
The company has a five-strong team in Accra, which has proved to be the optimum size of operation for the current level of activity in Ghana.
“Business aviation in west Africa has grown consistently over the last 10 years, especially in Nigeria and Angola,” said Coulomb. “In context, it is a smaller overall business aviation presence than more mature markets like the US and Europe. However, it is growing steadily. We are also starting to see more opportunities in neighbouring countries, which is a good indication that business aviation requirements will continue to grow in the continent.”
Elit’Avia bases a Hawker 800XP in Accra to operate charter flights, but also provides crews for clients who have their own aircraft but prefer not to maintain a permanent staff to fly them. At present, usage is biased towards the business sector, with companies with outposts across the continent favouring business aviation over commercial flights because of the flexibility and safety offered by executive aircraft.
As well as utilising its own aircraft, Elit’Avia also manages others. When it set up in Accra, it had four aircraft – two Nigerian Global 6000s, 1 Global XRS and a Ghanaian Falcon 2000. The collection of aircraft under management has now expanded to six, with a seventh expected shortly.
Some of these are available for charter, while others are held permanently under private management.
Although Elit’Avia bases one of its aircraft in Accra, there are problems, particular to the region that limit the scale of its own operations there, said Coulomb. “One of the on-going challenges to business aviation’s growth in the region is the difficulty in getting banks and leasing companies to offer financing solutions. This adversely affects the number of aircraft based there.”
At present, most destinations served by Elit’Avia, either with its own or managed aircraft, are within the central west African region and intra-country locations. The remainder of its services – flights to Europe, the Middle East and North America – represent no more than 20% of the duties performed by the fleet.
Coulomb has the advantage of having worked in Nigeria for five years in the 1990s, so he is familiar with the quirks and hurdles of operating in west Africa: “There are a number of challenges, as with any emerging market environment, but overall the industry is constantly improving and we are seeing a higher level of professionalism,” he said.
Nigeria, in particular, has improved a great deal over the past few years in terms of infrastructure and operations. Nevertheless, it is still not the easiest region to be in for business aviation operations. Crewing and basing can be problematical.