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Business Air News
Business Air News
The monthly news publication for aviation professionals.

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Related background information from the Handbook...

Desert Air

ExecuJet South Africa
FBO/Handler (Cape Town)

Fair Aviation

Helicopter Horizons

Hi-Fly Marketing

Kalahari Air Services

Mack Air

Major Blue Air

Namibia Helicopter Services

Signature Aviation
FBO/Handler (Cape Town)

Westair Aviation

Wilderness Air

BAN's World Gazetteer

South Africa
The monthly news publication for aviation professionals.

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Southern Africa: An established market with great potential
The United Nations definition of southern Africa comprises Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. This is our first review of charter in the region since EBAN expanded its geographical coverage to include the continent of Africa.

The United Nations definition of southern Africa comprises Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. This is our first review of charter in the region since EBAN expanded its geographical coverage to include the continent of Africa.

Botswana is an African success story since gaining independence in the 1960s. Although one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world, including the Kalahari Desert, it is also one of the fastest growing in terms of GDP per person, and is fully democratic. The capital is Gabarone, and this is served by the Sir Seretse Khama airport, one of two bases of the Kalahari Air Services company. KAS flies an all-Beechcraft business fleet including the 1900C for 19 passengers and the Super King Air 200, recently upgraded to a Blackhawk conversion, configured for eleven passengers. The latter is also equipped for air medical services, with LifePort stretcher system.

The company's second base at Maun in the north of the country is an international gateway, and an important route to popular tourist areas. It is also host to Mack Air, a fixed-wing charter company using a variety of smaller aircraft up to the Cessna Caravan. Its services include: game lodge and camp transfers for tourists, medical evacuations, private and business charter, scenic flights over the Okavango and supply runs for game lodges.

Wilderness Air has its administrative centre and a hangar at Maun airport, adjacent to the terminal building. Its Botswana operation transports guests, staff and freight to safari camps in the Okavango, Linyanti, Chobe and surrounding areas, with 90 per cent of such operations conducted within the triangle described by Maun, Shakawe and Kasane.

Its fleet also comprises Cessna Caravan aircraft, which it says have proven to be the best passenger carrying bush aircraft in its fleet for sectors of from 20 to 300km, although it is comfortable and on occasion used on sectors up to 1,000km. The aircraft is capable of taking off from nearly all of the bush airstrips that Wilderness Air services because of its large wheels, efficient wing and powerful engine. The Caravans are equipped with a four-door cargo pod located under the fuselage which provides generous luggage carrying capacity.

Maun is also home base for Major Blue Air, which has a Grand Caravan configured for 13 passengers and offers visitors to the country its own safari lodge.

Based in Ngamiland, Helicopter Horizons offers helicopter services throughout Botswana with its Bell JetRanger. This includes remote medical assistance, load lifting up to 500kg, aerial survey/site inspection, corporate transport and filming.

Lesotho is surrounded by, and therefore largely dependent on, South Africa. The country has one airport at the capital Maseru, but until recently had no based business aviation operators.

That was until MGC Aviation was established in 2009, growing since to operate a fleet including two helicopters, an AS350 B3 and an EC135, and a Hawker 700A jet. These aircraft launched the company's professional and charter services to the highlands of Lesotho.

MGC is certified by the CAA of South Africa, and the Lesotho Department of Civil Aviation to fly over both countries and the rest of Africa, and recently added a pair of CRJ200 aircraft with the intention of opening scheduled routes.

“We recently chartered for a few private ceremonies, including weddings. Other than this we are still busy with the usual business we do that includes sling work, medical rescues, aerial support and a lot more,” says Mamotake Matekane.

“Our flight hours have increased due to the demand of services for our aircraft and because of our excellent services, we have loyal clients and new business relation-ships are being formed as well.

“At MGC, we function as a team and therefore every member of the company is important as they play an integral part in the success of the whole group. But we are most grateful to our leader Sam Matekane, who is the founder of the Matekane Group of Companies, the mother body that houses MGC Aviation, Matekane Transport and Plant Hire, Matekane Property and Matekane Mining.

“We are all about growth – growing our fleet, expanding our services into Africa and other continents and expanding our service baseline.”

Namibia, capital Windhoek, has evolved into a parliamentary democracy and is widely recognised for its potential for economic development. Geographically large, it has substantial desert areas and so has a very low density of population. There are 20 airports suitable for business aviation.

Windhoek's Eros airport is home to most of the commercial operators, including Westair Wings Charters with a highly diverse fleet consisting of 30 aircraft from piston singles to piston twins as well as single and twin turboprop aircraft. These include Cessna 310R, 340, 402C, 404, F406 and C208, Piper Cheyenne, and Conquest I and II, and the flagship King Air E90.

Westair operates vip travel, sightseeing, photographic and pleasure flights and fly-in safaris for individuals and groups – particularly to rugged and remote airstrips in Namibia with Nature Wings, a joint venture with Nature Friends Safaris. Most recently Westair has acquired a 19-seat Beechcraft 1900 airliner, which will be used to accommodate the needs of the growing oil and gas producing industry in Namibia. The company has also expanded internationally by purchasing a 50 per cent share in a Tanzanian based company. A Reims F406 has been earmarked to start this operation from the end of July 2013 and the Group is looking at adding a Cessna 208 to the fleet. Westair foresees this as a growth area with a lot of potential for further development. This group, after four years of planning and development, now holds a Tanzanian AOC and will be based on the island of Zanzibar where a permanent crew will be housed.

Windhoek-based Desert Air was founded in 1995 and today says it has a solid position in a very competitive tourism and charter market, using top-of-the-range pressurised turboprop Aero Commanders, the Cessna Grand Caravan and a variety of twin and single engine piston aircraft.

Trustco Air Services also operates out of Eros airport, and offers luxury air travel across the African continent and beyond. Its fleet consists of two Pilatus PC-12 aircraft and a Learjet 45.

Wilderness Air says its main destinations in Namibia are Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, Damara-land, the Skeleton Coast, Etosha and the Kunene River. Some of these destinations represent the finest wilderness areas Namibia has to offer. Again, the base for operations is in Windhoek. From here all reservations are captured and aircraft scheduled.

The Namibian operation is engaged in transporting guests to the principal tourist destinations, which are far apart, making air charter an obvious solution for travel.

The company's sector lengths in Namibia are on average 300 kilometres long. Less freight is carried in Namibia; in fact the only area regularly serviced with weekly freight flights is the Skeleton Coast. Longer sectors mean longer flights. The net effect is that Wilderness Air Namibia flies many operational hours, and carries fewer passengers than its operation in Botswana, but these passengers all fly further than the equivalent passenger in Botswana.

Wilderness Air Namibia operates a mix including four Cessna Caravans and one Cessna 310.

Elsewhere, Jan du Preez, founder and owner of Namibia Helicopters Services, started his flying career in 1986 after obtaining his helicopter private pilot's licence at Rand Airport in South Africa.

He joined the family business doing game capture with a Hughes 300 for the past 23 years, and says he has an outstanding safety record. With over 7,000 hours of flying logged, du Preez is said to be the most experienced helicopter pilot in Namibia. He is well known for his flying technique during game capture. He pioneered both giraffe capture using a boma (enclosure) and mature elephant relocation. Increasing demand for helicopter hire and related services in Namibia led him to establish Namibia Helicopter Services in 2007, with JetRanger and LongRanger helicopters.

Swaziland is a tiny and landlocked country which has only one international airport at Manzini (Matsapha). This has been scheduled for replacement by a new airport for some years. It may be one of that select group of countries completely without business aviation – unless you know different!

South Africa dominates the southern Africa region in terms of economic activity, and is a well-established marketplace for business aviation.

Our own Handbook lists some 94 airports and over 70 South Africa-based business charter operators.

One of these, Fair Aviation, is active in turboprop and jet business operations, but also flies freight and other services with larger aircraft from its base at Lanseria airport, Johannesburg. Now planning to expand, the company was prudent when this was necessary, says Dean Brons in praising the leadership of company ceo Fred Brons. “We have seen many a company closing doors around us. Many have been a lot larger and, we had thought, in a better financial situation than Fair Aviation. The foresight and vision to keep

Fair Aviation as small as possible to reduce overheads was a fundamental move in keeping the company competitive in a struggling industry. Fred has encouraged his staff to focus on the future and stick by him through tough times, and we can see some great rewards at the end of the tunnel.” Fair Aviation has recently taken delivery of a BAe 146QT from Belgium, and had the aircraft ferried to its AMO based in Mahikeng in the north-west. The aircraft is going into maintenance for a 'C' check and will then be available for lease. “The demand for local work for the freighter has been outstanding, but so has the international interest,” says Dean Brons. “Once the aircraft has completed its maintenance, the decision will be made to either keep the aircraft in South Africa or lease the aircraft out to an international client. Once this aircraft has been placed we will be bringing down a second freighter to follow the same procedure.”

The charter fleet comprises Beechcraft King Air 200, BAe 146-200, two BAe 146-300, BAe 146QT and a Gulfstream III. The company is waiting for delivery of a new Beech King Air 350i, due at any time now. The 350i is an eight-seat vip aircraft and will operate alongside the current B200. It will be made available for the vip mining and engineering sectors and corporate travel. The aircraft will also be available for lease if that option arises.

Since the football World Cup which took place in South Africa in 2010 ended, Fair Aviation saw a steep drop in local and international charter work. “I believe due to the World Cup, South Africa's aviation and tourism sector had a delayed reaction to the recession, however we felt it severely thereafter. But we have noticed a steady increase in the number of flights in the past year and even more so in the past three months,” adds Brons.

“We have a number of strategic business and marketing plans that we are currently working on for both the charter market and the leasing market. We are also looking to increase the aircraft fleet so as not to rely on brokerage deals. 2013 is the year of Fair Aviation and you will see our greatest growth during this year,” he predicts.

South Africa has proved to be very attractive to inward investment by western business aviation operators and service providers, and these include major groups such as Hangar 8, ExecuJet and Signature Flight Support.

UK-based aircraft management and charter company Hangar 8 has a strategy that involves setting up AOC operations in different parts of the world, South Africa being one of them.

Chief executive Dustin Dryden recalls that the company's involvement in South Africa actually came about because of its intention to operate aircraft in west Africa. “The majority of aircraft that operate in west Africa have to be on an AOC, just because of the way the various countries control what is going on, and the easiest and the most popular register historically (although not the case now, I have to say) was the South African because that was perceived to be a more comfortable arena for African operations.

“Generally speaking, South African pilots were much more comfortable operating in west Africa, because that was where they were more used to flying than Europeans were. So a lot of aircraft ended up on the South African register rather than local registries.”

Dryden further points out that most banks are comfortable funding on the South African register and, probably in common with most of the industry, 90 per cent of the aircraft on Hangar 8's fleet are mortgaged. “That limits the number of registers you can put an aircraft on because the banks will only mortgage aircraft on registries that they can get their money held as a lien. So if the aircraft was funded, which most are, then it had a tendency to be on the South African register,” he says.

Hangar 8 has an office in Johannesburg, taken over when the company acquired local operator Stargate: “As we built Stargate up for our operations in west Africa we have developed it in the local marketplace as well. We sort of did it backwards if you like,” he says.

Dryden believes that the South African marketplace for business aviation is well established anyway, and so he does not see the country as a growth market. “It is competitive and there is a lot of general aviation over there,” he says. “We don't see it as a part of the world that is just massively flourishing. It tends to be well structured and the operators have been there a long time. We have a medical operation out there with a Learjet with full medical facilities in it and do a lot for the oil, gas and mining industry out there. It tends to all be contract operations rather than ad hoc. We do have some ad hoc work in helicopter and fixed wing operation with a Hawker 800. But the majority of our assignments are contract work.”

Hangar 8 previously also had two Hawker 4000s on the South African register, but following a number of difficulties with the type both have been mothballed. “They are just a difficult plane to support, although we do have the capability. We have South African maintenance approval down there and in west Africa, and in the UK actually.”

Hangar 8's local director of operations is John Cole, a local who speaks Afrikaans and was previously with Stargate. “He writes all of our manuals. Does all of our tech. He is also a helicopter pilot,” says Dryden.

It is a requirement in South Africa to have a full time expert/paramedic and trauma person on the staff in order to hold a medical transport licence, and Hangar 8 has Patrick Wallett who is a medical expert. Unlike Europe, medical operations require a separate approval.

“I would describe South Africa as being very much like the UK 20 years ago,” adds Dryden. “It's the same people that have been in the industry for a very long time, and it is a closed marketplace. We looked at the options of set up or purchase and, to be quite honest, the chance of setting up and developing were so expensive and so time consuming, buying was a lot easier. It's been very good for us actually. It's a good part of the world, particularly Johannesburg which is central to the aviation community over there.”

The company finds that the distances are so great that passengers wanting to fly from southern Africa to Europe or the Middle East would usually travel via west Africa, and it is unusual for Johannesburg-based aircraft to make their way to the UK.

Johannesburg is the country's largest city, but is not one of its three designated capitals. The city has four airports; OR Tambo International, Lanseria, Rand and Grand Central, of which Lanseria is the busiest for business aviation.

Cape Town, on the other hand, has only one airport, and so competition to provide handling for visiting aircraft is intense among the seven different handling organisations.

Signature Flight Support there expects to handle 3,400 movements during this year, which represents an increase, having noticed an upturn in business during the first quarter. Peter Bouwer says the FBO has no immediate plans to increase its facilities, but says that the management team are always evaluating opportunities.

“We believe customers should always have a choice, and have a network proposition that offers our customers unique rewards for loyalty,” he says.

He points out that one of the most important ways to provide good service at Cape Town in particular, is to build good relationships with the local authorities. This can help to ease difficulties caused by the location's arduous immigration formalities.

“The Cape Town FBO is a dynamic operation,” he adds. “It houses a large based customer contingent, and is also home to several industry related service providers.”

Mark Abbott is the group FBO director for ExecuJet Aviation Group at Cape Town, a facility that handles around 3,500 movements per year.

He too has no plans for expansion at this stage. “We continue to offer a turnkey solution to owners and operators of business aircraft a true one-stop shop offering aircraft sales, charter, management, maintenance and FBO.

“I will be bold enough to say that we have enjoyed market share dominance for quite some time now in Cape Town offering the best facilities, staff and equipment. We really do pride ourselves on service excellence and are committed to providing a discreet, efficient first class service that existing customers have come to expect and enjoy. As a result, new opportunities present themselves. Face-to-face discussions with customers are key and congruent with our personal approach in an ever-increasing marketplace. Safety and customer focus are key and we believe we are setting the benchmark for the competition.”

For ExecuJet, expansion has been focused on west Africa instead. The company has recently developed a facility in Lagos, Nigeria, where it has a 4,700 square metre hangar capable of accommodating a BBJ and 25,500 square metres of dedicated concrete apron. “This is in response to a growing demand for aviation services in west Africa and we continue to evaluate new and viable FBO opportunities,” says Abbott. “Other exciting projects include a joint venture with Angkasa Pura for the management of 13 general aviation terminals in Indonesia, the first being in Bali, and a strategic partnership with NasJet to operate a new FBO at King Khalid International airport in Riyadh.”

Cape Town is also home to Hi-Fly Marketing, which reports that there is an increasing emphasis on safety in the African aviation industry, driven to some degree by new Safety Management System (SMS) requirements from the FAA for Part 121 (scheduled airline) operators. “Other aviation areas, such as Part 135 (on-demand air charter), Part 141 (flight training), and Part 145 (maintenance facilities) will fall under the same requirements in the near future,” says Shafieka Samuels of Hi-Fly. “This is leading to a greater interest in our safety-related services, not only because of the FAA (and therefore African civil aviation authorities) requirements, but also because operators are realising the business case for implementing safety management systems.

“We are a South African-based aviation company with a particular focus on technology systems and engineering expertise for improving operational efficiency and safety. We are currently considering complementary services to enhance our services offering and better support our clients. The first of these to come online will be fuel efficiency and flight operations consultancy.”

Hi-Fly Marketing has just signed an extended representation contract to incorporate all the Cassiopee services with Sagem Defence and Security. The Cassiopee aviation services offering is an innovative range of aeronautical services dedi-cated to airlines, business aviation and helicopter operators, organised around five service areas: safety and risk management, airline organ-isation, flight operations, operations costs savings and airworthiness/ maintenance support.