INTERVIEW WITH MR. RENE DECUREY, MD, AIR COTE D’IVOIRE

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Air Cote d’Ivoire:  
Delivering Connectivity And Reliability
 
Mr. Rene Decurey is the Managing Director of Air Cote d’Ivoire, one of Africa’s fastest growing Regional Carriers based in Abidjan. He spoke with Ewos IRORO onboard the delivery flight of the first of the airline’s brand new A320 aircraft from the Airbus Delivery Centre in Toulouse, France to Cote d’Ivoire. He also shares some insight on how African airlines can effectively cooperate in order to ensure their survival and competitiveness in a constantly changing business environment. Enjoy.
 
Mr. Rene Decurey,
MD, Air Cote d’Ivoire

Q. Your brand new A320 is equipped with onboard Wi-Fi, laptop charging ports and USB points. What suggested your choosing these facilities onboard this particular aircraft?

As you know, we have defined our network through a hub in Abidjan which means that you can connect from all over the points to all the other points via the hub of Abidjan. Most of the flights are not direct flights. So if you go from Bamako to Libreville, you have to stop in Abidjan and maybe you have to change flights; so the flight is a bit longer than if you had a direct flight.
To attract more people we have to be better, we have to have a nicer service than our competitors. This is how we are positioning; this is how we want to make the passengers feel at ease, to select us on purpose and say, okay with Air Cote d’Ivoire I can work, I have a good flight, I have my flight on time and I can be productive with my laptop because I have the charger and I have Wi-Fi. That’s why we had to put in all those services. This is the first reason.
And then the second reason is; I am not a magician. I do not know how the future is made. All I know is that in Asia, in Europe, in North America, in South America the aircraft have Wi-Fi onboard. They have all these amenities and I do not see one single reason why we should not have the same in Africa. That’s why we have chosen the high level of service in December.
 
Q. I was hoping you might want to have some In-Flight entertainment but you have chosen not to do that, I guess this in because the flight are basically short haul flights. But you must have a strategy behind it. Can you please explain that strategy?
Well, it has been quite a long discussions we had internally with other providers, with the manufacture, Airbus, and we have come to the conclusion that most of the passengers; once they have internet onboard, once they are connected, once they have a plug to plug in their tablet or their phones, that they prefer to watch their films on their tablets instead of having an in-flight entertainment with films given to you which is not really your choice. Our experience mainly in Asia, Europe and North America, you have lots of people who are in economy class who are just passing the flight looking at facebook, at their emails etc. They don’t even need films.
So why do we have to install a screen in every seat which needs maintenance, which needs changing, which needs updating if the people do not use it? Then we came to the conclusion that we would install it in business but not in economy.
 
Mr. Rene Decurey with Mr. Ewos Iroro,
Editor, Travel & Business News
Q. The seats are quite slimmer. Why did you choose these seats?
These are slim seats. There are seats which are a little bit softer when you have longer flights. We with our network, we have analyzed different seats and we came to the conclusion that slim seats give the best comfort, not only for the passenger seated on that seat, but also for the passenger seated behind because it gives you up to one and a half inch more space for your knees. I mean I am quite tall and I have no problem here really. The comfort is good, so we have tested these seats on carriers having actually these seats onboard to see if it is comfortable for our passengers as well. There is more leg room for the passenger behind.
 
Q. I don’t know if you noticed this but it’s something I noticed immediately I boarded the flight. If you look at your seat rows, you have got one through to twenty-seven; but thirteen is missing. Was that on purpose?
That was on purpose. Yes.
 
Q. What is the reason behind it?
In the belief of many persons, the number thirteen brings bad luck or brings something negative. So that is the belief, not only in Europe or in North America but also in Africa. And despite that, on all the aircraft I know there is no row thirteen and I even know in Italy for example, they have the number seventeen as a bad luck number. So there is no thirteen and no seventeen. So we have no thirteen. And if you have noticed in some elevators, you do not have the floor thirteen because it brings bad luck and in an aircraft you do not want to bring bad luck.
 
Q. I really liked the way you planned and arranged your delivery, some other airlines would have just come, sign the papers, read the speeches, pick up the aircraft and they are done. Why did you decide to make it a funfair?
We have ordered this aircraft thirty-one months ago. And since thirty-one months the Board, the State, the Shareholders, the Investors, the Management; everybody was busy trying to find the financing, how is the best way that we can finance new aircraft and not lease other aircraft? And that was a major job really. How many disappointment we had? No, you are too young; you need to have four years of activity before we can do something, so we cannot lend you money.
So, it was a difficult task for everybody. And it needed a lot of work to get everything together and not only for the management, not only for the Board; for everybody, even the employees of the airline. So I think it is normal that when you get this aircraft, when you have finally done the deal, with all it involves, that you make a big, big festival out of it. And that is what we did. I think everybody deserves it and everybody liked it.
 
Q. Let’s talk about the internet. From what I have seen, to get on the internet there is a fee of $17 for an hour for a data package of 40 megabytes. Would that be all through the classes?
This amount is not yet 100% fixed because we first wanted to have the aircraft to have all the agreement with the different providers to see what the actual cost will be. So we will fix the amount later on. It will be the same for everybody. Be it Business class or Economy class, because everybody has to communicate at the same pace and at the same level.
So for the moment, for example, now we are overflying Mali and we do not have yet the agreement from Mali; so we cannot communicate here. We could over Algeria and again once we join Burkina Faso then we can connect again. So we have first a little bit training experience before we fix the final amount.
 
Q. What will happen until you get that agreement with Mali?
No, we have initiated this a long time ago, but we didn’t know exactly when the delivery will take place. So they will be ready in a couple of days but not today.
 
Q. What is the configuration of the aircraft in terms of the number of Business Class and Economy seats?

 

Business Class Seats

We have 16 Business Class seats. So we increased from 12 on the previous aircraft to 16 because we need more business class seats. And we have 132 in economy; so that’s 148 altogether.

 
Q. With regards to using it for cargo, what are your plans?
Regarding Cargo in addition to passenger flights of course, with this aircraft we can transport, if the aircraft is full, we can still transport approximately 1.5 tons of cargo.
 
Q. Air Cote d’Ivoire is coming out with a brand new product and your airline, though young, has been seen as one of the respectable airlines within the region. What is the message you have for the other nations whose airlines probably overtime have either gone out of business or might want to come back into business, what is the advice for them?
Our vision is not to have one airline based in Abidjan who kills all the other countries. As we said last night at the Press Conference, we have done a lot to the economy of Ivory Coast because we have air links nearly everywhere. And I think every country, and every President, and every Government would like to have this. So I think every country has an ambition to get an airline on its own in order to fly out of its respective capital to the region. But we have also to admit that an airline with just two or three aircraft is not competitive. But our strategy is to cooperate with those airlines and do a joint network or have a joint fleet.
I just take an example; if Air Burkina, today has two Embraers; if they had two Airbus, we could join forces on the maintenance, we could join forces on the pilots, on the crews, on the training side. So we have areas where we literally can cooperate a lot. Whereas if you have different aircraft you cannot, it is very limited. And I think the future will be in that sense that you have in each country maybe 1,2,3,4 aircraft but you are in a Regional Alliance where you share different services like maintenance, like crews, like network in order to make even the smaller airline accessible to synergy and to a competitive cost level. That is what we would see.
 
Q. What impact has Air Cote d’Ivoire had on the economy?
When we started in 2013, Abidjan airport had a volume of 950,000 passengers and today it has 1,800,000. I mean we doubled in 4 years. Not everybody is getting off in Abidjan of course, but even the transit passenger leaves something behind in the tax free shop or attracts new businesses, we have to enlarge the airport; this creates new jobs. We have calculated out of our operations CFA 100 Billion turnover a year, with approximately CFA 45 Billion which goes back into the local economy in fuel, in airport taxes, in catering etc. So you can imagine that is nearly half of our turnover which is going back into the economy creating new jobs. This is tremendous.
Economy Class Cabin

 

Q. What would you say was responsible for the 100% growth in the passenger numbers in the past 4 years?
I think it is connectivity, punctuality, reliability; passengers know now that even if a flight is delayed, they can reach their destinations within a reasonable time.
 
Q. What is the unique selling point of Air Cote d’Ivoire and how would you describe the brand?
I think Air Cote d’Ivoire today; the passengers would say, we like the service level because you get what you pay for, you get the service. We like the service onboard by the crew; how it is delivered, the way it is delivered. We like the connectivity because you can reach throughout West and Central Africa nearly all the destination in no time and with direct flights; and the punctuality and reliability. I think that is what passengers would name first. And I think that is important that the brand is on the higher side. So we are not perceived as a low cost, no service airline but more on the other end of the tube.
 
Q. Five years from now where do we see Air Cote d’Ivoire?
I don’t know where we will be; we want to consolidate our regional and domestic network which will take us another one to two years. And then I would not exclude that we go on the intercontinental once we are ripe for it, once we have the potentials through the hub of Abidjan. I could mention that we go on the long haul.
 
Q. This is the first of five A320s on order. What is the delivery period for the others?

 

The next one is coming in three months in October. And then we have to wait for the new generation of Airbus, the Neo; the first one in 2020 and the two other ones in 2021.
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