Wing airplane on Africa map background.

In what is still the world’s smallest aviation industry, African Open Sky (AOS) is going beyond limitations and carving out new territories in gravity-defying style. Business Worldwide stands in appreciation of the passion, dedication and innovation displayed by its groundbreaking CEO, Max O. Cissé.

The winner of our Aviation CEO Prize for Africa 2016 has shown exemplary character, tenacity and poise in an industry much maligned by the outside world. Having established the leading aviation services group in Africa, Max is growing the business in the Middle East, while also playing a crucial part in the rejuvenation of his local industry. AOS has been able to build a working relationship with more Civil Aviation Authorities (CAA) in record time than any of its competitors, leading to smoother operations, quicker turnaround and greater customer satisfaction.

The African aviation industry has been able to maintain a positive annual growth despite struggles in other continents. Much of this has to do with its growing middle class and low oil prices. The industry is expected to keep growing, although it is not increasing quickly enough. Airline taxes are one of the highest in the world, and intra-African travel has barely been tapped. Government policies, in an attempt to protect local airlines, have stifled competition.

There is a need to invest in modern infrastructure which will reduce costs for operators and entice investors. African Open Sky functions as a facilitator of this change by bringing in a high level of expertise and training. They have bypassed many of the issues that have led to the insolvency of many companies which have tried and failed to accomplish what they do so gracefully.

Business Worldwide talked to the CEO to determine the challenges and promises which present themselves in African aviation.

How is the aviation industry changing in Africa?

The industry of aviation in Africa is in a state of perpetual change as it, together with the aviation sector, moves and develops. The African continent still has many natural resources in the world, attracting the attention of businessmen, major groups and companies to move to invest in or discover. Similar to the major sea exploration expeditions of previous centuries, this rush to Africa is carried out by air travel and we have seen more development of the aviation industry for passenger transport (tourists, business) as well as many new air routes opened.

The current aviation market is slightly regulated, with government agencies trying to protect local airlines by restricting competition. This has led to travelling costs being higher than expected in most parts of the continent. With its close links to local CAA’s and the local airport authority, AOS has been a model for other companies to follow. It stands in support of not just its own local aviation industry, but also for the continent, which has given it an acceptability standard rarely afforded to foreign operators. 

Challenges to the African aviation industry:

Despite the goodwill of local authorities to develop the African aviation sector, expansion is hampered by several factors. A poor record of safety and security, lack of adequate resources and infrastructure, distance and limited connectivity, lack of training and formation of ground staff, primitive regulation and government actions are among the main constraints the industry is facing. These constraints add to competition and high operating costs resulting from the surge of passenger taxes and aviation development taxes etc.  Addressing these challenges could significantly unlock the potential of the industry for future growth.

How is the aviation industry in Ivory Coast faring?

Ivory Coast is not in the margin of this wave of accelerating Africa’s aviation industry development. The authorities set the security, safety and the quality of infrastructure as a motto. This is translated on the ground by a modernised civil aviation, the presence of an international group in charge of the management of Abidjan’s (the capital) airport, while the ground handling is entrusted to another well-known foreign company. The Abidjan airport has expansion projects and the government has developed the national carrier, providing financial means to develop its fleet and network to make it a hub for West Africa. The government desires the development of Fixed Base Operators (FBO) in Abidjan Airport to attract businessmen and investors.  There is also a large project – ‘Airport City,’ the first in Africa, which aims to create a huge city around the airport, including facilities to enable the traveller to do everything in one place: hotels, banks, department stores, etc.  African Open Sky is part of this big project!

How does African Open Sky differentiate itself from rivals in the space?

AOS stands apart from other flight support companies by having more directly owned offices across the continent. In addition to its headquarters in Abidjan, AOS has a further 25 offices and more than 30 local representatives.

Unlike competitors, we are established as locally registered business and are approved by national civil aviation authorities to co-ordinate flight operations. This certification is vital. Local authorities in Africa generally insist on it as they consider support companies to be the same as the aircraft operators themselves in terms of legal accountability for flights.

African Open Sky has a strong regional presence. What role does this play in the strategy of your company?

If you want to succeed in today’s volatile global economy, you must be prepared to do business all around the world. We are constantly adapting our structures to become faster and more flexible, and one of our values at AOS is, “We put our customers at the centre of what we do.” We have to understand their needs and wishes and enter into a dialogue with them.

AOS has become the one- stop solution for all our clients as we are available throughout the African continent and in locations where there is neither a company nor a local supplier to handle flights. We are locally registered in many countries, have direct relationships with their authorities and do not use third-parties. This simplifies operations and significantly reduces handling costs for the operators as now they have an exclusive handling company which will handle all their trips across Africa. There will be no need to find a local service provider for each stop as they are now able to rely on AOS; all co-ordination can be achieved with only one OCC. This strong regional presence helps us to be the number one service provider in Africa and in return we have been integral to our clients’ operational success in the African region. With our high ethical standards, dedicated 24/7 local support and world-class infrastructure, our customers always enjoy our exceptional service performance for absolute peace of mind.

What plans does African Open Sky have for the future?

Our aim for the next two years is to enhance co-operation with our aviation authorities and to help and support them in the development of hundreds of African airports, including equipment, training and management. Additionally, AOS has a strategy to develop African tourism and safari, and access new revenue opportunities, working on the basis of new technology, regulation and in accordance with international standards.