PARIS—Brussels-based Sabena Aerospace has accomplished another step in its international-growth strategy for Africa, concluding an agreement with ECAir Equatorial Congo Airlines that would create a joint venture (JV) for maintenance services at European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) standards in the Republic of Congo.
The JV—called [email protected], for sabenaaerospace@ecair—will be majority controlled by the Belgian MRO provider, which is EASA Part 145, EASA Part 147 and EASA Part 21 certified. Sabena Aerospace will hold 51% of the JV and handle operational management to guarantee EASA standards.
ECAir is the Republic of Congo’s national airline and, like all airlines in the country, is on the list of air carriers banned by the EU for failing to meet its regulatory oversight standards.
EASA-standard maintenance operations will be offered at Brazzaville’s Maya-Maya International Airport beginning this fall, offering line maintenance up to A checks, as well as maintenance workshops for wheels, brakes and small equipment. Sabena Aerospace will provide the tooling and know-how, and also train local technicians.
The aim is to gradually develop local expertise through the training and recruitment of local technicians. “A lot of the success of [email protected] will depend on building local knowledge and expertise,” Sabena Aerospace CEO Stephane Burton told Aviation Daily. “We want to train and teach them up to the EASA part 66 license level.” The first five technicians could start their training this year, and a further 10 in 2016.
In addition, a new hangar will be built in 2017. The hangar will accommodate all types of narrowbody and widebody aircraft, including the Boeing 787, of which ECAir has two on order. The airline took over options on two 787-8s held by Switzerland’s PrivatAir. The first long-range, mid-size twinjet is scheduled to be delivered to ECAir in the first half of 2016, the second one is due to follow in the second half.
ECAir wil not operate the aircraft itself, but contract an ACMI provider. One 787 will replace the Boeing 767 in its fleet, while the second unit will support growth, according to ECAir Director for Strategy and Development Marco Villa.
“This maintenance JV is part of the overriding objective to develop a civil-aviation industry in our country, but also in Central Africa, meeting the highest quality-and-safety standards,” ECAir CEO Fatima Beyina-Moussa said at a briefing in Paris. “This is what ECAir has tried to do since it was created in 2011,” she stressed.
The airline was established with assistance from Lufthansa Consulting.
ECAir operates all its aircraft under an ACMI contract with PrivatAir and the Belgian TUI Group airline subsidiary Jetairfly (Aviation Daily, Jan. 15). However, it is in the process of bringing its first aircraft—a Boeing 737—on the registry of the Republic of Congo.
The Republic of Congo’s civil aviation authority ANAC and ECAir are working together with EASA and ICAO to raise its air-safety standards and lift the blanket ban set by the EU on all airlines certified in the Republic of Congo. ICAO was in Brazzaville for an audit in May, and “results were promising,” according to ANAC Deputy Director General Marcellus Boniface Bongho.
Brazzaville will be Sabena Aerospace’s third line-maintenance station in sub-Saharan Africa, and its second new one since the management buyout (MBO) from France’s TAT Group May 2014. Burton led the MBO of the Belgian activities of TAT and renamed the company from Sabena technics to Sabena Aerospace.
“Africa is part of our growth package,” Burton said. “We made an assessment of 50 airports, of which we have selected 30. We target to have a presence at 10 airports in the next four years.”
Sabena Aerospace set up a new subsidiary and line-maintenance station in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, in October 2014, and the base has been EASA-approved since November 1. Customers include Air France, Turkish Airlines and Air Cote d’Ivoire.
The Belgian MRO provider also operates a line-maintenance station in Dar Es Salaam, where its supports FastJet’s Airbus A320-family operations. Burton said Sabena Aerospace most likely will open a small facility to support FastJet in the beginning of September at Harare Airport, Zimbabwe.
The Brazzaville-based JV aims to generate half of its revenue from supporting ECAir aircraft and the other half from supporting other local operators or international airlines in transit. “We are discussing with two third party customers, of which one operates Airbus A330/ A340s to the airport,” Burton said. There is a potential of supporting about 60 flights per week at Maya-Maya International Airport, not taking into account ECAir flights.