DALLAS – a vast continent with vast skies but has often lagged in terms of air connectivity and is only now taking its infant steps to up the game. While the continent is too large to generalize, today’s post looks at carriers from the Southern half – TAAG (DT).
Angola’s national carrier has had a volatile run for the most part but it is also one of those airlines that has a global brand awareness be it for its long haul connections to Europe or South America, its widebody fleet of Boeing 777, or just its rich history dating back to 1940.
In this exclusive Airways interview, I talk to Eduardo Fairen, CEO of TAAG, about how such a carrier can strengthen itself for the upcoming decades of air travel demand in the African continent.
We can recall that neighboring carrier South African Airways (SA) has had its fair share of troubles in recent times, being the only other strong competitive carrier from the area.
So would this be the right moment for TAAG to hit the gas and establish itself as the prime carrier of Southern Africa?
Eduardo has held multiple executive posts at several airlines and is also the co-founder of the Spanish low-cost carrier Vueling (VY). Besides his air force flying career, he has several thousand flying hours of experience and has worked at airlines like Iberia (IB), Lufthansa (LH), DHL (D0), and Air Arabia (G9).
SG: As someone who loves challenges, how’s it going steering TAAG at this very moment and what are your priorities for the overlap with the 2023 season?
EF: Our vision is to be the airline of choice for passenger and cargo services connecting Southern Africa with the world, with a strong focus on sustainability and growth. To ensure that, we have been enabling the business, aligning people towards the corporate mission while structuring the company to become more competitive.
Our strategic pillars and priorities are people, connectivity offer, commercial superiority, operational excellence, organization efficiency, and financial sustainability.
When do you think the privatization will happen? And do you have some bidders already? Any foreign investors?
The Angolan Government’s idea is to privatize the aviation sector, since, in January 2025, the country will be covered by the “open skies agreement”, the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM). Prior to the privatization, TAAG Management Board is inducted to restructure and drive the transformation within the company.
The outcome is to align TAAG with the best practices in aviation and implement a roadmap for business growth. So far, there is no formal process or deadline for the privatization to occur, only expressions of interest from large companies/investors, local and external.
In any case, please bear in mind that the privatization process is managed directly by the Angola state via IGAPE (Institute for the Management of State Assets and Equity).
Could we see a new TAAG thanks to privatization?
I would say privatization is just the tip of the iceberg, while several transformations are ongoing below the line.
As evidence, we are strengthening the company’s global reputation, achieving key international certifications, diversifying the revenue streams (cargo and leased aircraft to Cabo Verde Airlines), reshaping the fleet, adding more frequencies, and (re)opening routes (Madrid, Havana, Accra, Durban, Point-Noir, Harare, Lusaka).
Overall, we are bringing efficiency K.P.I.s into doing business and mastering a 180o change program driving employees into a mindset shift, and more compliance with this digital, open-market, and competitive era.
How much of the TAAG fleet is flying now? Do you plan on refurbishing the Boeing 777 fleet (prior to privatization)?
Aside from wet-lease, the TAAG fleet comprises 21 aircraft among white body and narrow body equipment. In detail, Dash 8-Q400 (six aircraft), Boeing 737-700 (seven aircraft), Boeing 777-200 (three aircraft), and Boeing 777-300 (five aircraft).
However, due to legacy maintenance planning issues aggravated by the pandemic (suppliers congested by demand), we are operating with around 65% of our fleet. Thus, we have two aircraft in cargo operations (737 and 777) and one B737 leased to Cabo Verde Airlines.
The 777 fleet plays a major role in our intercontinental connections and our crew is fully familiarized with the equipment, meaning we shall continue with this range ahead.
From 2023, would the A220 initially complement the 737-700 before their retirement? What kind of network improvement would we see with these aircraft that can offer much more than the Boeing 737?
TAAG is introducing a «multi-brand» strategy by incorporating Airbus into its operation. It’s fair to say that the development and manufacturing of the Airbus A220 family are located in Canada, so we keep talking with key manufacturers based in the Americas.
The A220 will coexist with the Boeing 737 until we initiate the phase-out of the older aircraft. In the end, we may sell the 737 to the market or convert the equipment into a cargo business.
The Airbus A220-300 are state-of-the-art aircraft concerning efficiency and average fuel consumption. TAAG expects savings of around 30% in fuels – when compared to existing Boeing 737 models on long-haul routes — and a 20% reduction in operational cost, globally.
The A220 offers comfort and great baggage and cargo capability, enhancing TAAGs’ service level. The versatility of the A220 gives TAAG the range flexibility to cover the whole intra-African market with a greater level of efficiency.
Is it safe to say the DHC-8 is TAAG’s best-performing aircraft? It yields solid domestic performance; is it also exceeding your expectations on nearby international routes?
This aircraft is very reliable and above all, with lower operational costs when compared to the Boeing 737 model.
Thus, is extremely efficient for domestic connections and suitable for medium-haul routes with no massive traffic demand. It allows us to operate regional routes close to Angola, namely Windhoek (Namibia), Maputo (Mozambique), or Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo) keeping a positive business case.
The DASH 8 400 is a modern, fast, and comfortable aircraft, and overall, a valuable asset for business travels or VFR.
How’s the partnership with Iberia so far? What percent of passengers on your Madrid flights are transiting through Iberia?
It ́s a win-a-win partnership with mutual benefits. To leverage our presence in the international panorama and we must team up with the best. The codeshare and interline agreement will allow passengers traveling from TAAG ́s network in Africa to connect, via Madrid, with IBERIA’s network in Europe, Latin American, and North America reaching more than 100 destinations in 43 countries.
The agreement also enables passengers arriving from IBERIA ́s network to connect to TAAG ́s network in Africa and beyond. Africa is today a key player from a geostrategic point of view, and for its economic, demographic, and tourism attractiveness.
We can say the load factor is positive, and partnership is growing each day. Evidence is that we start the Luanda-Madrid connection on June 27 with 2 weekly flights and since November we upgraded, flying now three times a week Luanda-Madrid Hub. Recently, IBERIA also started selling TAAG’s tickets to link destinations via Luanda, meaning both companies have their sales force 100% committed to the partnership’s success.
I’d presume you want to make TAAG a successful hub and spoke carrier in Southern Africa. What are certain steps needed to get there, given the competition from Ethiopian and Kenya Airways?
Understanding and implementing change within the company is vital to be relevant. Assuring the aviation building blocks are solid (safety, operational efficiency, and customer experience) is non-negotiable to survive and grow.
We must focus on where we can deliver, and perform on time with lean connections and great quality standards. We shall leverage our strategic location (South-South and Transatlantic connections) and infrastructure (new Luanda International Airport) and orient the business with a customer-oriented approach.
Featured image: Eduardo Fairen. Photo:TAAG