Africa World Airlines – Local, Reliable Talent
Africa World Airlines is bringing world-class reliability and safety to the market powered by homegrown talent
Africa World Airlines was founded in 2010 and began operations in 2012. Since then, the airline has grown from two aircraft to eight aircraft.
“We will be serving ten destinations by the end of this year in Ghana, Nigeria and other African countries,” explains Sean Mendis, Chief Operations Officer of the airline. “We are a private sector airline, we are profitable, and we are growing, three things not often seen together in Africa. So it’s something we’re very proud of. We’re a full IATA member, we have undergone the highest-level
IOSA safety audits, the same level as British Airways, Delta, or any other major international airline. Our reliability record speaks for itself. Our immediate goal is to become the dominant regional
airline in the West Africa region, and we’re on track for that.”
Indeed, Africa World Airlines has turned its reliability into a unique selling point, operating at a level you might expect to see far from much larger scale international airlines.
“We want passengers who book tickets with us to be confident we’ll deliver the service they’re relying on us to provide,” Mendis says. “It helps to show the passengers that we respect them and respect their time and that helps productivity overall. People can schedule more meetings when they know they’ll get there and get back on time, boosting the productivity of our customer base. We’re not always the cheapest in the market, although our goal is to provide both the cheapest tickets, as well as the most premium service in the market, we like to believe the reason most passengers choose us is our safety, reliability and on-time performance.”
Providing this level of safety isn’t cheap, but as Mendis points out, “If you think safety is expensive, imagine the opposite! Of course, delivering those standards comes with challenges of its own, particularly in a part of the world where infrastructure can often be a challenge. The lack of infrastructure and higher cost of investing in building that infrastructure drives the prices up for everyone through direct and indirect costs,” Mendis admits. “Either way it stifles the potential market that we could be tackling because of the high costs. It’s not like there’s an easy solution but the government in Ghana is responsive to our suggestions.”
Indeed, the infrastructure in Ghana has seen some substantial developments just recently. “Most importantly for our development has been the opening of the new Terminal 3 here that opened just a year ago this week,” Mendis points out. “That terminal is an absolute world-class terminal, built by Ghana Airports Company Limited with support from the government, and since its opening, we’ve seen a 400% increase in connecting passengers. We see that is going to be the sector of our business that will really grow over the next few years.”
That growth in connecting passengers is going to prove to be a key part of Africa World Airlines’ strategy going forward.
“Africa World is profitable as I mentioned, and we continue to grow. In the last year we’ve added two more aircraft, opened a new route to Freetown last year, and we’ve opened more routes this year,” Mendis tells us. “We signed a comprehensive strategic partnership with South African Airways. We are going to feed their flights to Washington from the domestic and regional markets. We have a partnership with Emirates, and another partnership with Brussels Airlines, which is being announced in October. For us that has been the key. Our growth will come by bringing more passengers to connect in Accra who hadn’t previously had it as part of their travel plan. That’s really been the change in the last year in our model and our strategic thinking, facilitated by the new airport terminal here.”
The standards that Africa World Airlines have achieved make them an appealing partner for any international airline looking to arrange connecting flights. But what makes this achievement all the more impressive is that they have done with an almost entirely local pool of talent.
“That’s something we’re very proud of. When we were first set up, one of the strategic decisions we took at the beginning was our core management positions should be filled by Ghanaians with international experience,” says Mendis. “We made a conscious effort to make sure we weren’t dependent on expats who’d be here for two or three years then disappear and take the expertise with them. That has really held up, around 80% of that core start-up team is still here.”
As well as holding on to a strong, Ghanaian core team, the airline has also come a long way by growing a new generation of Ghanaian pilots and engineers from the ground up.
“More critically, on the skilled technical personnel level, we made a decision to invest heavily in training. We had a lot of young pilots and engineers straight out of flight school and college, and we put them through training,” Mendis tells us.
The strategy is just now paying off. “It’s taken a while because there’s this generation that needs to grow up with us, but a few months ago the first pilot we hired straight from flight school just became a captain, and more and more of our pilots are starting to become captains, junior engineers are getting engineering licenses and type ratings,” Mendis says proudly. “It’s our investment back then that is now starting to pay off, and we’re very proud to be an African airline where almost 80% of our pilots are local Ghanaians, and 90% of our engineers.”
As well as being a boon of national pride, the strategy also has practical benefits as Mendis points out, “This has helped with retention and keeping our cost base manageable because although we pay our staff competitively, with homegrown talent you don’t have to pay for work permits, transport to and from their home country etc.”
While this team grows and comes into their own, Africa World Airlines is ready to provide them with plenty of opportunities in a growing market. “Africa World Airlines’ intention, from our strategic vision, that our board approved, is to become the dominant carrier in West Africa over the next few years, and grow our global brand with partnerships with other airlines,” Mendis says.
“Serving this region is our core business, and other airlines can’t fly a large Airbus or Boeing into many of these smaller markets. As a last-mile delivery service we can bring value to the big airlines, and they, in turn, can bring us more traffic.”