Fly Angola is in the final stages of acquiring an Embraer EMB-120 for flights to the country’s western and northern provinces, while a second ERJ-145 will also be targeted once the company has secured its own Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC).
Local partner AeroJet currently operates the entire Fly Angola network, deploying one ERJ-145 (registration D2-FDF) from Luanda to Dundo and Saurimo in the east and Benguela in the west.
But the virtual airline, which launched services in September 2018 with backing from Angolan investment firm Gestomobil, is targeting rapid growth in a domestic market that general manager Belarnício Muangala describes as chronically under-served.
“Since 2017 we have been forecasting the market for overall investment in the economy of Angola, and we identified a big opportunity in [domestic] aviation,” the airline manager told me. “We had non-regular operators like AeroJet, which is our AOC holder. We had Guicango [another domestic carrier]. But all these operators mainly operated charter flights.”
Scheduled air traffic in Angola is dominated by two state-owned airlines: TAAG, the flag-carrier; and Sonair, which is a subsidiary of energy parastatal Sonangol. TAAG’s smallest aircraft is the 120-seat Boeing 737-300, while Sonair’s fixed-wing fleet consists primarily of Beechcraft 1900s that carry 12-18 passengers.
Muangala believes the 50-seat ERJ-145 and the 30-seat EMB-120 are better fits for the country’s thin but growing domestic routes.
Fly Angola’s EMB-120 will be acquired on a long-term dry lease and registered under AeroJet’s AOC to facilitate immediate entry to service. It will spend about four days of the week in Benguela’s Catumbela Airport, which the airline plans to develop into a “mini-hub” that pulls in traffic from the sub-region.
“This is something, I think, in the last five years no operator has done,” Muangala affirmed. “But, because of the traffic we have carried from Luanda to Benguela and vice versa, we have been able to survey the passengers and see that not all the passengers have Benguela [as their end] destination … So we are trying to now see the option to feed Benguela from Namibe, Lubango and Ondjiva.”
He said the company often achieves load factors of 90-95% when it runs ad hoc triangle flights between Luanda, Benguela and Lubango, which “shows that there is demand between the cities out of Luanda”.
For the remainder of the week the EMB-120 will be based in Luanda, running triangle flights to Cabinda and Soyo in Angola’s far northwest – important markets for the oil sector.
The second ERJ-145 is being sought primarily as a backup aircraft to ensure that services are not disrupted when the first unit requires maintenance. It will be acquired from a third party – not AeroJet – once Fly Angola has secured its own AOC. The company submitted documentation to Angola’s Civil Aviation Authority in December and April under that regulatory process.
If the mini-hub strategy in Benguela is successful, management will also consider basing an aircraft in Luena for connectivity to points such as Saurimo, Dundo and Menongue.
Asked whether he would like to cooperate with TAAG by feeding traffic into Luanda, Muangala acknowledged that “economically that’s what makes most sense”. Approximately one in four customers on Fly Angola’s Benguela-Luanda sector has an onward international connection, he noted. But it is not yet clear whether the political appetite exists for such a partnership.
Plans for a public-private consortium of Angolan operators, dubbed Air Connection Express, were abandoned last year when the country’s president, João Lourenço, cancelled an order placed by TAAG for six Bombardier Dash-8 Q400s.