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By NBF News
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For several decades, one of the challenges hampering Africa's economic growth has been that of poor air connectivity within the continent. In some instances, passengers travelling from one African country to the other have to fly first to Europe before connecting to their desired destination on the continent.

What this translates to is waste of time and and resources and automatically, businesses suffer.

Worse still, attempts to have a strong and sustainable regional African airline has been a herculean task as perception crisis and poor financial backing never let it, survive for a resonable length of time.

Efforts to correct these anomalies gave birth to Togo-based Asky (Africa Sky) Airline which says its vision, to link African nations together and also help link Africa to the rest of the world.

This the airline management said will stimulate economic growth through job creation, business boost and tourism.

According to the President of the airline, Gervais K. Djondo, Asky was conceived with the firm belief that an efficient air transport system will be an important tool for regional integration.

He added that the company is a private multinational airline, initiated by the regional financial institutions and the private sector.

The ideology, he hinted, was in consonance with a decision by African Heads of States meeting in Niamey in 2004 to create a private, regular, safe, competitive and cost effective airline.

Djondo, who is also a major stakeholder in Ecobank Plc said Africa has grown to a level where she can no longer rely on European airlines for flights to service the continent.

He thus called on various African countries to support the budding airline which he said is a bridge builder aimed at fostering economic cooperation.

According to the President, the need for cooperation has become necessary because despite Yamoussokro Desision of November 14, 1999 which normally allows any eligible carrier to operate in Africa sky, Asky was denied traffic rights by many African countries, even as a full-fledged and eligible carrier.

He noted that the company fought tooth and nail to get traffic rights and eventually took to the skies in Lome, Togo on January 14, 2010.

Interestingly, the airline has grown considerably since birth.

Recently, the airline launched its Abuja-Lome service where Djondo spoke with journalists on several issues.

Here are some of them.
To be the premium airline company, with a distinguished African vocation that will ensure excellent connection among Africa countries and between Africa and the rest of the world.

To support and facilitate dynamic economic and trade activities through the creation of new air transport routes within the region. Contribute to the development of tourism within Africa and between Africa and the world over.

The first thing I want to talk about is in terms of cooperation. ASKY as a company cannot go it all alone; you cannot do it to the satisfaction of everybody, therefore, ASKY and some other companies have to get together before they did this. We have B737 aircraft Next Generation. The oldest aircraft we have is less than five years, so this is also a big challenge for us to keep a very young fleet. What we are also looking at is how to win new markets. There have been agreements signed between Heads of State, between ECOWAS, within African Union all talking about 'Open Skies'. They all have been talking about 'open Skies', in reality, these skies are not open. People just kick against the regulations that have been put in place, making it difficult for companies that are running now. It is a challenge that must be overcome. Another challenge that I see is the taxes. We are subjected to too many taxes; landing taxes, light taxes and so many other taxes. We believe again that we should arrive at a point in cooperation when these things should be lighter for the airlines and then lighter for the passengers because these things are passed on to the passengers. Another challenges again, countries must make sacrifices and they are not ready to do that because of the loss of sovereignty.

Training and manpower development
I want to tell you that we have signed a document with our technical partner in the area of training. The good point of it is that last week, we received two aircraft captains. They have been fully trained and they are now with us. So, we have started training our own pilots. We are going to have technicians trained very soon. We need them on all our flights. These among others are how we are improving the company in safety. The other way is that is to give good service to our customers. We have deliberately chosen to fly relatively young aircraft and this was the plan of the company right from the beginning. A new plane, no breakdown. Other companies, especially from Europe will say African aircraft are not reliable and like the President of ECOWAS said, Africa must come together, put together resources especially in the area of airline business.

We will be two years in a couple of weeks. We intend to move gradually. We want to give priority to covering West and Central Africa, give opportunities to our business men and business women to move very freely within these two regions. This is for them to have a connection via us to other airlines to go about their businesses. However, talking about Nigeria , we need approvals. Once we are given those permits, we will increase our frequencies to Nigeria . You know we have only two to Abuja. We want to increase it to seven. After that, we will expand into some other Nigerian cities to make more traffic within Nigerian. We will cover region by region. We intend to control a large chunk of the market; West and Central Africa. After that, we will think about long haul, international flights. With that, we will now fly to Asia, America, Europe, and again like I said, things will come in small stride, but surely, we will cover all the places including Nigeria.

For now, we have two flights a week on Tuesday and Saturday to Abuja. We have already daily flight to Lagos .

We want to tell you that we have four aircraft, three B737 and one Q7 Bombardier aircraft. By the end of the year 2012, we'll be supplied two new B737 aircraft. Its already programmed. We hope that in the next four years, we will have nine aircraft flying all over Africa .

Avoiding the pitfall of other crumbled regional airlines

That is a very good question. We don't want want to go the way of Air Afrique. The good thing is that ASKY is a private company; it has a board of directors made up of businessmen. The other thing is that we have a capital in which we deliberately refuse to have state participation. It is purely private promoted company. We want to manage our company as private companies are managed, in a professional way. Talking about recruitment, it goes the professional way. We bring in people which we think can manage. We bring in people based on their competence. One other issue is that we have analysed what makes failure of some other airlines. We have seen the pitfalls and we are doing all we can to eliminate all that. We want to assure you that we are doing what we can to make sure we don't fall into the same mistakes of these airlines.

Strategic partner
We signed a Memorandum of agreement between ASKY and Ethiopian Airlines, who is our strategic partner. The agreement allows Ethiopian Airlines to support the launch and the development of the community airline ASKY and they took an asset participation of 20%. The agreement also covers Management Assistance, Technical Assistance and Operational Assistance.

January 14, 2010, was the official launch of ASKY, which I always call the community Airline. It was launched by the President of the Republic of Togo, His Exellency Faure GNASSINGBE in presence of the Ethiopian minister of foreign affairs and ministers of transports in west and central Africa, Madagascar and many other high authorities of Africa;

Most of the time, people comments are: Firstly, it is a Togolese airline.  Some even ask; isn't it that Indians business? while some others say it is an appendix of Ethiopian Airlines.

They say these because our identity is drowned in that of our partner, Ethiopian Airlines (ET). All our documents (TKT, flight N°) are ET The Passenger Management System is that of ET ; Part of the flight crews are ET ; We are not BSP (Billing and Settlement Plan) ; We don't have our own office (General Sales Agents everywhere)

Our ambition
Our ambition is to change this situation; ASKY has to conquer the heart of Africans.

We have to affirm our identity, reveal our label. Our unique selling point is offering a complete excellent quality service. We also want to acquire more airplanes, extend our network, begin intercontinental flights and overall, offer more job opportunities to Africans. This will be backed by adequate training.