By: Femi Awoniyi
“African Aviation going through transition”
Sebastian Kester was born in Nigeria to a Nigerian father and German mother. After several years working for Deutsche Krankenversicherung (a health insurance company), body-building and taking flying courses, he launched Spherus Aviation in 2008. Based in the German city of Hanover, the business aviation management company is currently expanding into Africa. In an exclusive interview with The African Courier, Kester talks about his company, which is the only African-owned aviation company in Europe, and the opportunities and challenges in African aviation, among other issues.
What does your company do?
The main business of Spherus Aviation is sales, acquisitions and consulting in the business aviation sector. We also offer a management service which incorporates maintenance, crew and flight plans, among others.
How do booming African economies affect demand for business aviation?
The growth and development of natural resources in Nigeria and the West African region, for example, is increasing the demand for business aviation. It is an emerging market and I believe that with time that there will be even more demand for business aviation.
How would you describe the state of aviation in Africa?
At the moment aviation in Africa is going through a transition and development process. There are changes to regulations, airlines are forging relationships with international alliances. Low-cost airlines are testing the waters …or the sky, to be more specific.
I see a lot of potential that will require the business aviation sector to compete with the speed of economic development. A company like Spherus Aviation can bring our expertise and tailor the service that we provide to our clients’ business requirements.
How has been the experience of your company doing business in Africa?
So far our experience in Africa has been challenging for many reasons. The infrastructure currently in place, in comparison with more established markets, certainly requires more investment – to develop facilities such as MRO and training and education. We are also trying to familiarize ourselves with changes to regulations and this is slowing progress down a little at the moment.
You have been actively involved in Nigeria, one of the biggest aviation markets in Africa. Safety concerns have been a major worry of the flying public in the country in the past decades. What is wrong with Nigeria?
The lack of health and safety standards and international aviation standards has led or contributed to avoidable tragedies and this has naturally diminished public confidence.
How can Nigeria overcome these challenges?
Nigerian aviation authorities must first of all understand and accept the need for health and safety standards. High-quality standards benefit everyone and reduce risk to those providing the service and the users of the service. There is a need for education in this sector. Aircraft and aviation require high-quality standards. Training of personnel and the physically established MROs are imperative for this. I would recommend that international standards are adopted and that there is further investment in education.
There are only few African airlines flying to Europe. What do you see as the major impediments to the international operation of African carriers?
In the past there have been a lot of African airlines banned from entering airports outside Africa. I believe that this was due to poor standards and lack of long-term planning – for example, the wrong aircraft for the wrong routes, lack of maintenance and qualified personnel and lack of essential follow-up that is obligatory in the aviation industry. Aviation demands high regulatory standards of operation and maintenance. I would advise that African airlines form alliances and endeavour to comply with official aviation authority standards.
Prices to African destinations from Europe are the highest compared with Asia or the Americas. What is responsible for this?
Prices depend on many factors. Due to lower standards [in Africa], the costs of airlines flying to Africa have to be compensated to make it profitable for the airlines to fly there.
Where do you see African aviation in ten years?
If there are effective and expedited decisions made on aviation standards, I believe the aviation industry will grow exponentially. African aviation in ten years’ time will develop a link with the new economies of Latin America and Asia. Cargo flights will increase to the landlocked countries. Increasing integration of the continent means that more people will be flying from one part of Africa to the other on business or leisure.