At 55, Désiré Balazire Bantu has the profile of an experienced manager. He was called upon by the Congolese government to redress Congo Airways, a company which had taken off under adverse conditions. Today, he is confident in the CGA’s future. Thirty years of experience in financial management, audit and strategic management of companies have played a key role in his turnaround plan.
Mining & Business: You have been tasked with developing a recovery plan for an aviation company that has taken off badly. How did the staff respond to the drastic measures taken by the employer, including a 17% pay cut?
Désiré Balazire: I spoke with all categories of agents and managers. I have given them examples from around the world, showing them that some countries have chosen to pay massive wages but without assurance of long-term work, while others pay decent salaries and keep workers for a long time. In the face of their company’s situation, our agents had to make a choice and make sacrifices. They welcomed the measure of reducing the company’s costs, including wages, so that together we can build Congo Airways.
M&B: You inherited an overwhelming staff of 426 agents for a company that started with only two planes.
DB: To put the company back on its feet meant that it was imperative to stop recruiting. The international standard is approximately 35 employees per aircraft. But for Congo Airways, to sell tickets, we need agencies, people who cash in manually, while elsewhere everything is done electronically at affordable costs. Elsewhere, most of the staff is made up of flying personnel, while the administration is dealt with by a small team.
M&B: To date, only 51 agents were dismissed. What about the others?
DB: We are going to put them in the three subsidiaries that we are going to create: a handling subsidiary, a branch for security and an aircraft maintenance subsidiary. Currently, 18 young Congolese engineers are taking Air France Industrie training and certification courses to become internationally recognised mechanics.
M&B: How to move forward with a fleet of only four aircrafts?
DB: We currently operate ten cities, and we will soon open more routes, provided the airports comply. Anyway, we are the company that has the youngest planes. With an average age of 7 years, our aircrafts are modern and allow you to travel comfortably.
M&B: But your range is limited to the national territory.
DB: Discussions are already underway with manufacturers, in particular, Boeing and Airbus, to acquire long-range aircraft. Congo Airways will be able to fly to Asia, including Dubai and China, as well as to Europe. We have already obtained our Air Operator Certificate. For the time being, we are waiting for ICAO to validate the process by which Congo Airways has been certified by the Congolese Civil Aviation Authority. Congo Airways awaits the IOSA audit required by IATA. We already have two IATA codes and three other codes to prepare EPLs for cargo planes. What remains is to be recognised as a member of IATA and prepare for the FCO (Fed Country Operator) certification, which opens the skies to Europe. It will most certainly be done in the year 2019, which gives us time to acquire new planes.