Interview: Abdoulaye Coulibaly

To what extent can Abidjan be competitive as an air transport hub in West Africa?

ABDOULAYE COULIBALY: Abidjan is well-placed geographically to become a West African hub as it is fairly close to West and Central Africa’s high-traffic destinations. The airport is easy to maintain and secure in its location by the coast. Aeria, in which the government has a 10% stake, is a private entity that runs the airport efficiently and is part of Aegis. A recent ICAO security audit was very positive, and the authorities are currently engaging in discussions with the Federal Aviation Authority in the US. However, a national carrier is necessary for a centre to develop. This is why we created Air Côte d’Ivoire, which currently flies to 12 cities throughout West and Central Africa, and the direct route layout is generally more time efficient than the existing coastal itineraries that require travellers to land at several airports along the way before arriving at their final destination. In terms of size, the firm currently has three planes and will acquire a fourth by the end of 2013. Airport costs are a bit higher than elsewhere, and President Alassane Dramane Ouattara has drawn attention to this. Indeed, the hub will not develop if costs are not lowered, and the parties involved are working to do this. For example, the Société Ivoirienne de Raffinage is attempting to reduce fuel costs.

How can Air Côte d’Ivoire avoid the pitfalls experienced by other African airlines?

COULIBALY: First of all, Air Côte d’Ivoire has several very reliable partners to help ensure its success, such as the Aga Khan Foundation, Air France, and Cameroon Airlines. We are also starting to enter discussions with other airlines, such as Asky, to conclude partnerships. Secondly, a competent executive team has been selected to manage the airline. Third, the choice of planes is also crucial, given estimated traffic volumes and the presence of other players on specific routes, which opens up possibilities for cooperation. This is where technical partnerships can become a real possibility.

Which factors will help render Air Côte d’Ivoire’s domestic flights profitable?

COULIBALY: With several domestic destinations, such as San Pédro, Korhogo and Daloa, much of the national territory will be covered, and, although it will be difficult to make these routes profitable, the induced effects are significant, as access to the country’s interior will be facilitated for companies, the government and diplomatic missions. Furthermore, we expect our internal flights to be profitable by our fifth year, while our regional routes will generate returns.

To what extent is demand in the region sufficient to avoid capacity oversupply risks?

COULIBALY: There are a lot of commercial exchanges between Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire that generate demand for flights, and this was evident during Air Afrique’s existence until 2002.

Going forward, with population and purchasing power both increasing, demand should continue to grow, while the main regional West African airlines remain quite busy. Furthermore, Air Côte d’Ivoire had 25% of Abidjan’s traffic in terms of the number of passengers after its first three months of operation.

What kinds of investment projects would you like to encourage in the “Aérocité” project?

COULIBALY: The purpose of the Aérocité project is to create a city around the airport, as current infrastructure surrounding the terminals remains limited.

Furthermore, in the neighbourhoods immediately beyond the airport, such as Marcory and Zone 4, there is no available room for expansion. As a result of this, the open space surrounding the airport becomes an ideal place to create an urban centre with hotels, conference halls, shopping areas featuring retail stores and restaurants, and various transport and logistical infrastructure. Indeed, Aeria is already planning on investing CFA50bn (€75m) into this project, which is widely expected to generate around 35,000 jobs.