Interview: Abdoulaye Coulibaly

What measures are being put in place to increase the airport’s attractiveness?

ABDOULAYE COULIBALY: In 2016 the government decided to lower several taxes, which will cut costs for airlines operating in Côte d’Ivoire. The Treasury tax and national solidarity tax have both been abolished, and the tourism tax has been halved. While we are constantly aiming to lower costs, we are also actively seeking new partnerships with airlines from North America, Europe or even Asia.

Several new infrastructure investments are planned in the coming years, such as the construction of a 2500-metre taxiway, which will cost CFA12bn (€18m). It will contribute to better flow of traffic by allowing planes to move while other aircraft are landing or taking off. To improve the flow of passengers, we will also be extending the terminal to the north, increasing the number of check-in points and widening the arrivals and departures areas.

Additionally, work on a new fixed-base operator has already begun and will be finalised by 2017. This new terminal, which will cater to private jets, will be built at a total cost of CFA1.5bn (€2.3m) and will also include a CFA2bn (€3m) car park.

Despite recent delays, we hope that the extension of the freight terminal will also be finalised by the second quarter of 2017. This project will see the airport’s freight capacity increase from 20,000 tonnes to 50,000 tonnes, bolstering our role as a regional hub.

What are the foremost challenges to the development of regional airlines?

COULIBALY: The main challenges include the size of the market, the purchasing power of consumers and the low level of inter-African trade. In addition, capitalisation of airlines has historically been a major issue, since large levels of capital are required to stay afloat until reaching profitability. Inadequate management of airlines has also been an obstacle to the development of the industry in the region, with widespread cases of corruption or embezzlement.

Air Côte d’Ivoire has the support of the government, Air France and the West African Development Bank, yet it will not become profitable until 2018. Today, the airline has a regional focus, but it is hoped that after reaching profitability, it will be able to extend its footprint outside of the sub-Saharan region.

The choice of aircraft is also an important element. Air Côte d’Ivoire, for instance, has chosen to use Bombardiers for flights lasting two hours or less, and Airbus 320s for longer travel times. Five new Airbus 320s are expected to be added to the company’s existing fleet, with two to be delivered in 2017.

When a plane breaks down, airlines spend 24-48 hours waiting for replacements from North America or Europe. There are enough planes in the region to justify the creation of a mutual spare parts pool, which can allow us to respond more efficiently to unexpected malfunctions. The mutualisation of services such as these, as well as baggage handling and catering, are also areas worth looking into.

Training needs to be made more accessible. In many countries, the government takes a leading role in the training of pilots and engineers. Due to a lack of learning institutions in the region, we send our students to France, which leads to higher costs.

A more recent challenge is directly related to the drop in oil prices. Many regional airlines have either scaled back their flights or have refrained from entering oil-dependent countries – such as Nigeria or Angola – given their lack of foreign exchange.

Although not signatories of the Yamoussoukro Agreement, some foreign airlines have been making use of the fifth freedom, which allows airlines to pick up passengers from a second country and drop them in a third country. The adequate application of this declaration is necessary to maintain the competitiveness of our airlines in the face of global competition.