Since the launch of its improvement programme in 2008, TAAG Angola Airlines has done much to earn the loyalty of its customers. Director Rui Carreira talks about plans to expand the airline’s international, regional and domestic footprint.
In the 10 years since peace has been achieved in war-torn Angola, the transformation has been enormous. The economy has blossomed and grown; so much so that according to figures from The Economist, Angola has been ranked as the world’s fastest growing over the 10 years to 2010, outpacing even those of the much-vaunted BRIC countries. And for the state-owned Angolan national airline, TAAG Angola Airlines, the opportunities are enormous.
Increasing numbers of business people are attracted from around the globe to the capital Luanda and to the outlying regions, not only to exploit the nation’s rich diamond, oil, gold and copper resources but also to engage with commerce and smaller business. The increase in demand for air travel is not confined merely to the business sector, either. Tourism is growing rapidly, and the people of Angola generally prefer to make major journeys by air. “Our country is very large,” explains director Rui Carreira, “and some roads are not in good condition after nearly 30 years of war, so air travel is sometimes safer and cheaper.”
The airline currently has a fleet of 13 aircraft. Five Boeing 777s operate scheduled long-haul flights to Brazil, Cuba, Dubai and China, as well as to Portugal. Eight Boeing 737s service domestic flights to 14 destinations in Angola along with regional flights to Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa, and to the capitals of Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Namibia, Cape Verde, Sao Tome, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Destinations like the UK, France, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Nigeria, Kenya, Morocco and Mozambique are served in code share with local flag carriers.
Strong growth is projected for the near future. In 2011, TAAG carried 800,000 passengers. “This year we expect to carry 1,200,000 passengers. The busiest periods for us are the holiday months of July and August, and December and January,” says Carreira.
Looking more closely at the projections, by far the greatest increase in demand is for international flights. In the short term this demand can be met by the existing aircraft fleet, but TAAG has plans to expand its international, regional and domestic services. “There is currently some restructuring taking place in Angola,” Carreira explains. “When the runways and airports are ready, we will fly to more domestic destinations. Many people also want to fly from one country to another within Africa, but they can currently only do it via Europe or Dubai, so we would like to conquer many more capitals in Africa. But much will depend on the economic growth of these countries. We also want to expand our services into Europe, which is already a major destination.”
To prepare in a measured way for this programme of expansion, TAAG has already purchased two new Boeing 777s which will go into service in 2015. Further fleet expansion will take place in 2017 and again in the future, catering for further long-haul destinations, and for expansion of the regional and domestic service. “We plan to expand our fleet gradually, as this will require a major investment,” says Carreira. “We are currently examining all the options, but we hope to be able to double our fleet by 2020.”
All of this, however, is dependent upon attracting international, regional and local customers and providing a safe, efficient, comfortable and profitable service. To achieve this, the company launched a turnaround programme in 2008. “We have rolled this out into all areas of the business, from maintenance and commercial through to financials,” says Carreira. “And we have achieved some big improvements in our safety record, in passenger confidence and in the confidence of the aeronautical authorities, particularly in the European Union.”
As part of this improvement and modernisation programme, TAAG has implemented a number of IT tools to manage and survey the operations and engine functionality in real time. A new safety management system has been put in place and the company is currently implementing a modern integrated aviation management system. “The improvements are not just IT based, though. We have made significant changes to the way we manage TAAG. We have changed the board of directors completely, and introduced a range of new management processes that are aligned with best practice in the industry,” reveals Carreira. “These are now in place in our maintenance department, flight operations and in the quality and safety departments.”
Staff also play a critical role in the company’s success, and as part of the improvement programme TAAG has introduced a rigorous recruitment and staff evaluation process supported by a range of motivational initiatives to improve and reward good performance. Part of this is an intensive training programme. “We have a training facility here at Luanda airport where we train our staff and provide refresher courses to ensure they are up to date with the latest industry standards in all areas of the business.”
With increased competition throughout the airline industry in general, and costs spiralling due to rising fuel prices and increased security requirements, the company’s major focus at the moment is to improve the customer experience. “There is a great deal of strong competition flying to Luanda, so our concern now is to create comfort for our passengers and to build customer loyalty,” says Carreira.
Customers are surveyed at all the interface points: at the booking agencies, at check-in and on board flights. Based on this wealth of information the airport and in-flight facilities and services are continuously being upgraded to increase customer comfort. Meanwhile, a frequent flyer programme has recently been introduced, offering a range of privileges to loyal customers; a website is now up and running offering online ticket sales and check-in facilities; and a call centre has been opened to enable customers to interact with the company in real time.
Through a combination of modernisation, expansion and improvements to safety, security and customer service the company is raising its profile. But none of these are quick fixes: in each case they have been thought through and tackled in a measured and sustained fashion with the aim of capturing a significant share of the blossoming market in flights within Angola and to regional and international destinations. http://www.taag.com/
Written by Gay Sutton; research by James Boyle