In 2001, the Libyan government raised a team of experts from the Libyan national carrier to draw a blueprint for the establishment of a sister airline Afriqiyah Airways. Ten years later, the airline has ranked amongst Africa’s finest, connecting Africans with Europe in an astonishing routine that covers more than 30 destinations including Africa, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. BLESSING OSONDU caught up with amiable Abdulnaser Ali Abukhshem country manager Afriqiya Airways who incidentally was one of the eggheads in the presidential team of experts that drew the blueprint for Afriqiyah Airways. Abukhshem who told TravelMate before the revolution in Lybia, February 2011 said the carrier could be young, it has one of the most experienced pilots in the world with sizeable young fleet, tremendous capacity and wide network. Excerpts:
Q: How would you describe Afriqiyah Airways ten years after it was inaugurated as one of Libyan’s national carriers?
A: Interestingly, I have been part of Afriqiyah Airways from the very start – I mean from day zero when the airline was conceived. So, I would rather describe Afriqiyah as my baby because I was part of the team that made an outline for the airline. Today, I am happy to see the airline grow. Yes, Afriqiyah has done quite well without mincing words. It has grown progressively, expanding its operation to cover most part of Africa, Europe and Asia. We aren’t just expanding we pride ourselves as one airline with a difference. Our pilots rank amongst the best in the world and operate the youngest fleet as well. And what’s more, the airline is evolving and of course has remained highly competitive in spite of challenges from renowned carriers that have been in operation for several years or what else can I say of a ten year old carrier. It is young and vibrant.
Q: Would you say the airline has attained its desired height or better still, realised some of the key objectives for which it was established?
A: We haven’t done badly at all. We are becoming very noticeable globally given our humble achievement in the last ten years. And of course if I may add, we are very competitive having transcended 36 destinations. I would say we have done very well especially when you view us against the backdrop of other airlines that have been in operation for the past, say 50 to 60 years. Success has to do with planning, integration, and how much risk you can take. I mean, in just ten years, we have been able to cover 30 destinations. Some airlines that are 30 years or 50 years old haven’t covered as much destinations. Besides, the size and ages of our fleet are breathtaking and this gives us an edge over competition. Our fleet is all brand new and they are all Airbus’ equipment. We are of course growing progressively. Only recently, we took delivery of eight new Airbus planes of various capacities – which are part of the 50 aircraft we ordered from Airbus. More so, we are increasing in capacity, network and size as well as in service delivery. I risk saying we are competing favourably with European carriers in the European market. And remember the key goal of Afriqiyah is to connect Africans to Europe, Asia and the Middle East. We have realised this objective with Europe and we look forward to doing that distinctively with Asia and of course the Middle East – where we have Cairo, Jeddah and Dubai. And mind you, we started Beijing, China in November 2010.
Q: One of the significant visions of Afriqiyah is to control considerable percentage of mail services and cargo operations in the African continent, how have you been able to harness this objective?
A: Until we are able to consolidate effectively on what we are doing in the European market as well as Asia and the Middle East, we would not diversify. However, it is part of our key plans no doubt though we are taking our time.
Q: Now tell us, of what significance is the 9.9.99, the birth date of African Union and red, green, yellow colours to Afriqiyah Airways?
A: The 9.9.99 simply means 9th day of September 1999. It is the declaration day of the Union of African States in Tripoli Libya. The union conference was held on this day in September 1999 in a city named Sirt in Libya. More so, these colours symbolise Africa. They are the famous colours in Africa. The entire 54 countries in Africa have either one or two of these colours in their national flags. These colours are synonymous with Africa. Africans love these colours.
Q: What informed Afriqiyah preference for Airbus equipment even when it started operations with Boeing aircraft?
A: I wouldn’t know. It is like automobile brand. Some people have strong taste for German brand of cars like BMW, Mercedes Benz while others it is Japanese such as Nissan, Toyota and for others, it is the Asian engineered vehicles e.g. Kia Hyundai etc. So the choice is yours. (That is on a lighter mood.) Airbus has reputation for safety, efficient fuelling, cost efficiency etc. Notwithstanding, either Airbus or Boeing is good. In fact they both look alike from afar. You need to be an aviator to be able to distinguish Boeing from Airbus. For instance, you need to be experienced to differentiate between Airbus C30 and Boeing 767 if you do not take a careful look at the wing tape.
Q: How seamless are your connecting flights particularly for passengers in transit?
A: Our flights are usually at night in all Africa, arriving between 11pm up till mid night. After one hour or one and half hour, we connect our passengers to continue their trips to Europe thus meaning you can start your early enough and finish yet go back to the airport to commence your return journey back home.
Q: What with occasional delays, baggage delivery and customer service?
A: It is very rare. We don’t have cancellation. Our recent experience was during the volcanic ash when flights were restricted for safety reasons. Even then, we took care of our passengers, we gave them refreshments and if the passenger lives outside Lagos, regardless of the place in Nigeria, we could sometimes ask the passenger to go while we send their baggage to them.
Q: Who is Abdulnaser?
A: My name is Abulnaser Ali Abukhshem. I am the representative of Afriqiyah Airways or station manager in Lagos. I see Afriqiyah as my baby. It is like my company because I started with the airline from day zero. Until I join Afriqiyah in 2001, I was with the Libyan national airline. I have worked in Ndjamena Chad; Mali Bamako and Lagos Nigeria.