Andreas Kaïafas, CEO of Malabo-based Cronos Airlines, discusses Equatorial Guinea’s development as a role model for other African countries, its strengthening foreign relations, and the rapid rise of his company helping its socioeconomic development in just a few years by generating local employment and focusing on reliability, safety and punctuality.Equatorial Guinea is going through a historic period of time with the revenues from hydrocarbons helping position the country among the most modern and richest on the continent. Could you give us your view on your experience here in the country and where you see the direction it is taking?
If you visited Equatorial Guinea in 1986, like I did, there has been great development. With regard to international relations, the country is on a roll due to its openness with other nations, having hosted the 2011 African Union Summit, 2012 African Cup of Nations and 2013 ASA Summit. How do you see this as the country opening itself up to the rest of the world and wanting to be a prominent player in Africa?
I do not think the aim is to be a prominent player. I think the aim is to give an example of prosperity and development to the neighboring nations in CEMAC and on the African continent in order to increase the will of the other countries. I think the President has a pan-African vision and we wants to see other African countries develop as well. That is why whenever we have a head of state visiting, we show all the projects we are doing here in Equatorial Guinea in order to give them a boost to do it in their countries.
I think if you go to other countries today, it has worked because some countries are trying to invest in infrastructure and they are trying to make their country a better place. The President of Equatorial Guinea is visionary and he is open-minded, but at the same time he has to protect his country. The country was poor before, but now suddenly it is a very rich country. I think he wants the population to enjoy the change in lifestyle, and the mentality is changing in a positive way as a result. But this process takes some time. The President does not try to compete with anybody in whatever he does – he does it for the wellbeing of his country and its people. If the other countries take what he is doing as an example, he will be more than happy. One of his great projects in recent years has been the African Cup of Nations. His Excellency the Minister of Transport has stated: “We want private sector companies to work with the government.” He wanted private enterprises to collaborate in making this project work. How did Cronos contribute to the success of the Cup of Africa?
That is a tricky question. Cronos maintained its schedule as it does still today. We have not changed it. We are a scheduled airline and we cannot increase the schedule just like that. We are known for punctuality. The government however has chartered two Boeing 737-800 from RAM in order to help with these events, and of course Cronos was there to support the existing scheduled flights. I think it worked very well. On a different note, speaking about the air transport industry, one of the greatest developments in the country was the creation of the Dirección General de La Aviación Civil (National Civil Aviation Authority). What is your opinion on the importance of the creation of this institution?
Let me clarify something. The government with the initiative of His Excellency has created the Autoridad Aeronaútica de Guinea Ecuatorial (Equatorial Guinea Civil Aviation Authority). It will be completely independent from the Ministry of Transport. It has its freedom and no political involvement in the technical matters of aviation, so that no political involvement will influence any decision that could jeopardize the security and the safety of the passengers. They have visited Belgium to discuss the progress of the project with the European Commission and the timeframe for different actions they would take in the near, medium-term and long-term future. In the new structure they will hire expertise in the sector of airworthiness, and operations that will come in and support the new structure According to the United Nations Development Program, aviation is of crucial importance for the country, which is natural due to the existence of different islands and the lack of roads in certain areas of the country. What is your opinion on the role that aviation and companies like Cronos have in the social and economic development of the country?
90% of the country has asphalt roads. It is not the case in other neighboring countries for example. However the problem is that there is a continental part, but there is also the main island of Bioko and then you have the small island or Corisco that they want to develop for tourism. And of course, you also need to support the small population of Annobón so they can move around. By maintaining a low fare policy within the sector (Malabo-Bata-Malabo) of course taking into consideration the different costs, Cronos participates in the socioeconomic development of the country. 85% of Cronos’ employees are Guinean, so we provide jobs and training in the aviation sector. What kind of training do you offer?
We place an emphasis on the quality of service. We train on dangerous goods, human factors, ground operations etc. But we still have a lot of work to do. The financial director of CEIBA Intercontinental told us about the importance of being acquainted with the standards and demands of the international civil aviation as quickly as possible, particularly the importance of co-validating licenses for pilots in this country. Do you believe that civil aviation in Equatorial Guinea is doing the right things in order to reach this objective?
It is very important to clarify things. When you say things like that and you put them down, then it can create misinterpretations. What does co-validation mean for you?Being able to give licenses to pilots locally.
No, that is not co-validation. Let me explain. The country has no flying school and in order to be able to issue a license, they need a flying school. So they need a certified and approved flying school. So we send pilots outside of Equatorial Guinea. We have pilots here with ICAO and European licenses for instance. In order to fly an Equatorial Guinea registered aircraft, you have to go to civil aviation with your last simulator check, your instrument check, the last pages of your log book, your medical report, your CRM, your dangerous goods and all the other appropriate documentation. So then they will co-validate the main license you have with an Equatorial Guinean license. You mentioned that Cronos collaborates with CEIBA, and that is a very important part of the progress of the country.
OK. Cronos is my baby. Now it is expanding. I am always available, whenever required and whenever I am asked either by the Presidency or my friends at CEIBA. I do not believe that we must fight each other; on the contrary – I believe that we must support each other and fight the competition from outside. I think you are more of a threat to CEIBA than CEIBA is to you.
We are not a thread to CEIBA we are complimentaryYes, but you have the punctuality, know-how and the best airplanes.
CEIBA’s planes are good as well. Maybe the way they expanded the company route-wise was very fast; maybe the first people who came in where not the right people. But, I can assure you that they have good pilots. I know some of them. They have a very good technical director, and they have a vision. It is their baby, not mine. I am not an enemy of CEIBA – on the contrary, I believe that we can help each other in order to face the competition that comes from outside. That is my vision. When I had an AOG (aircraft on ground) I chartered CEIBA. That is an example of how we work together. I told them that when they have a technical issue, we would be there to do the same thing. Aircraft can experience technical problems. Cronos began with a 19-seater plane, and now it has grown to be the second national flagship company. Could you tell us more about the history of Cronos Airlines?
Cronos was created in 2008. We started with a small 19-seater and we started slowly with a small license to operate for six months. It was a provisional license. We came back with a 30-seater at the end of 2009 and in July 2010 we came with a 92-seater, the BA-146, which was operating in Germany before with Eurowings. We have a second 98-seater. We have a ‘certificado de transporte aéreo’ (air transport certificate) and we do 15 scheduled flights to Bata, three flights a week to Douala, two flights a week to Cotonou, and two flights a week to Port Harcourt. We are thinking about Malabo-Cotonou-Abidjan. We have a vision of becoming a mid-sized regional airline.His Excellency the President said that air transport is vital for the country and the CEMAC region.
In general, transport is vital. That is how you move goods and people, so it is something that is very important for our country, not just aviation, but also maritime and ground transport. Transport is a key factor for the economy. I admire the President. We try to force ourselves to discipline ourselves so that we convey a good image as an Equatorial Guinean company. Aviation is like a billboard advertising a country. Could you tell us about the types of advantages that Cronos offers in the cargo business?
We are trying to work on the cargo business, but it takes time. We will do it step-by-step. Our priority is to concentrate on the scheduled passengers. We have a good cargo space in the planes; we can take 3.2 tons and 3.8 tons. I think within a couple of years maybe we will have something strong in cargo, but we want to focus more on passengers.Another opportunity for growth is the company’s flights to the islands of Annobón and Corisco. What is your vision for the potential of these islands?
These islands can be touristy. The President has a vision for tourism. Tourism is about services with people, which is very complex. So I think it will take time. If the vision and the will are still there, maybe they can concentrate on selective tourism, i.e. people who are interested in eco-tourism, scuba diving etc. but not mass tourism. You need time to get into mass tourism, but they can do selective tourism quite fast. Considering the number of Americans who can enter the country thanks to the visa requirements, and given your slogan of ‘safety and punctuality’, what message would you like to send to readers about Cronos being their airline of choice when they come here?
Cronos is already an approved operator by Schlumberger. I see a lot of Americans on my flights and I am honored. Speaking about Americans, Delta Airlines said in 2010 that they had plans to start flights to Malabo. They have not arrived yet. Having Cronos as the company of choice for the country and the region, how would you like to see collaboration with Delta Airlines or other international airlines?
We want to be a regional airline. There is a vision for a new terminal at Malabo, where you can have transit passengers as well. So if airlines like Delta come in, you will have passengers from Cameroon and the rest of the region flying to Malabo, and from Malabo to Atlanta with Delta for example, and the same thing with other international airlines. We can play a small role bringing passengers to Delta and CEIBA in the future to China. Moving onto a few personal questions, we know that you have a lot of experience in aviation in Africa and we also know that you were very African, since you arrived in Cameroon at the age of four. How do you feel being an industry leader who is helping to modernize the sector in Equatorial Guinea and setting an example in Africa?
My personal opinion is whatever we do, we must love our job. I have not done anything else in my life except aviation. I like it and I enjoy doing it and maybe that is why I give time and a lot of energy to make it better. I believe what you put into it is what you get out of it. Thank you for the compliment of calling me a leader. I try to do my job and keep a low profile. I feel like an African because I grew up in Africa – you would have felt the same thing. I do not see myself living anywhere else, but you never know. Maybe after five years I will have done everything and I will feel that I need some new blood within the company. But we still have a lot of work to do. So your love for the industry is perhaps your greatest motivation?
Yes. What final message would you like to send about Equatorial Guinea?
Equatorial Guinea is a promising country. A lot of work is being done to make it even better. Perfection does not exist – there is democracy, but democracy is interpreted in a different way in different countries. In America, the interpretation is different, as it is in Europe and Asia. That does not mean that the way democracy is here has to be the same as it is in Europe for example. There are cultural issues etc. It is a different nation with a different culture, but I can assure you there is democracy. But there is also somebody who is imposing discipline. Democracy does not mean anarchy – it also means discipline. Without discipline, there is no progress. I have been here for a long time; I like this country and if they want to visit somewhere different with nature or scuba diving they can go to Annobón. We have a golf course here as well and they can go fishing. It is a safe country and the crime rate is maybe non-existent compared to other countries. We have good infrastructure so I would tell them: ‘Welcome to Equatorial Guinea’.