Mobility within the country is one of the most important challenges the DR Congo’s government must confront in order to ensure the country’s sustainable development. Important projects have been put in place in order to make transport a real driver of economic development, of which the new government-owned airline Congo Airways is a perfect example. Managing Director Claude Kirongozi Ichalanga explains the significance of the launch of the new flag carrier in October 2015, and its emphasis on modern management and international standards.
What are the factors that motivated the creation of Congo Airways?
The Democratic Republic of Congo is a vast country, as big as the entirety of Western Europe. In cases such as ours, ensuring the transport of people and goods becomes a sizeable challenge. That is why, after many years of absence in the air sector, and due to the decision of the European Union to blacklist the existing Congolese companies in the airline sector, the DRC government decided to come back to this sector, to bounce back so that the population might easily move around the country. And time is money; you can take a boat or a train, but we need something faster to encourage business.
That is why the government, under the leadership of the President of the Republic, Joseph Kabila Kabange, decided to create Congo Airways because the rapidly increasing population had to be given the opportunity to move around this vast country.
How will the new airline company contribute to the modernization of the country and help increase its competitiveness?
Congo is a vast country with about 54 airports and airfields, which today are in a pitiful state. However, with the launch of Congo Airways, the authorities of the country have demonstrated that they are aware of the challenges involved in aligning our airports to the international standards of the OACI. In order to achieve this, in total security, every airport and airfield rehabilitation program is welcome and will contribute to the development of Congo Airways.
The government gave us an objective of “zero crashes”. Based on that objective, we ensure that each of our two planes functions without a snag, that businessmen, merchandise and services can easily move about the country, and that the government can profit from it. Everybody must benefit.
Airline carriers depend on tourism, as well as commerce and business. In the medium and long term, how would this new line contribute to the promotion and development of national tourism?
Congo Airways will participate in the development of tourism in our country in the sense that tourists will be able to reach to any touristic site and 54 airports or airfields throughout the republic. Therefore, as long as the company serves all these airports and airfields, tourists will have the opportunity to board our planes to reach the four corners of the republic, from Ituri province, to Ubangi province, to Katanga province, to the Bas Congo province.
The territory is extremely vast, with areas that are difficult to access by road or railroad; Congo Airways can now offers tourists the opportunity to get to those areas easily and in record time.
National airlines are the face of a country at an international level. What is your long-term vision of the aviation sector’s growth through Congo Airways?
The future of Congo Airways is based on a strategic plan of development. Firstly, Congo Airways would like to master the domestic market and serve the whole country – we have to admit that, with 54 airports, this will be a challenge due to the huge volume of traffic. But we see beyond these challenges, and plan on first serving Africa then transcontinental routes.
The plan is ambitious because global air transport is a very competitive sector; we are taking time to well prepare ourselves. In order to do this, we will allow external partners, both public and private, to invest in Congo Airways, thus creating a huge consortium in order to successfully and expertly tackle international traffic.
Once you leave Congo Airways, what legacy would you want to leave to future generations? What do you hope the youth learn from you?
The legacy I would like to leave to future generations regarding Congo Airways is one of good governance, good management. Once upon a time, we used to have a company that was the pride of our country, Air Zaire. Taking a good look at Air Zaire, bad management was the downfall of that great company. This is why I fully commit myself to making sure that the activities of Congo Airways develop well and according to national and international protocols.
Now, I would like to take the opportunity to remind the national and international opinion that regarding the management of the company at all levels – technical, financial, administrative – our aim is to modernize the management and that our results meet the expectations of the population. The people would like to see this company go forward, which is why I commit myself in front of the Congolese authorities and especially the President of the Republic, who entrusted me with the management of this company, to ensuring an exemplary management complying with the regulations, with the intention of taking the company to higher heights and avoid bankruptcy.
There is a proverb that says there is no success without good leadership. What is your leadership style?
The leadership style I employ at Congo Airways is one of collaborative management between the heads of the different departments. I put in place a system, a hierarchy, facilitating the transmission of information within the different structures of the group. I am an accessible managing director; I encourage my employees to share their struggles. They are free to think, create, and help the company move forward. It is a participatory management style with the interest of the company as our main objective.
The international image of the DRC is outdated. What can you tell us about the perception of the international community?
It is a real problem. The international community looks at Congo with a negative eye; I would like here to invite them to change the way they perceive our nation. Congo is changing. The Congo of today is not the Congo of yesterday. Congo Airways is a good example – it’s a brand new company created by the authorities to function according to the modern regulations of management.
I have to reiterate that Prime Minister Augustin Matata Ponyo has always insisted that the management of this company be different from the management of all the other Congolese companies. As a result, Congo Airways is a new company that must function with new methods to make a real difference. I therefore invite the international community to have confidence in our company, which is a commercial company complying with OHADA law, an airline that respects the regulations of international civil aviation organization.
To sum up, all that we do, all our activities, are in compliance with international standards; we will never separate ourselves from the protocols ensuring the safety of our passengers. We will conform with the existing guidelines in operations and maintenance of our planes, training of our pilots and cabin crew, and of every person working under our leadership. And so we will do our best to ensure the operation of this company will always abide with the international standards that guide the civil aviation sector.