Aviation: How We Started Africa World Airlines AWA On The Back Of A Paper Napkin- Sean Mendis

AWA

Ten years ago today, on 21st September 2012, Africa World Airlines was born.

Congratulations!

AWA was actually conceived two years earlier, when Apiigy Afenu and myself met for lunch at Alisa Hotel in Accra and he mentioned that Togbe Afede XIV had been approached by Hainan Airlines about possibly setting up an airline in Africa.

I remember taking notes on a paper napkin (sadly long misplaced) – including the words “Embraer 145” with three question marks after it!

The next month, the three of us flew to China to meet with the HNA Group and China-Africa Development Fund, and came away with the tentative green light to pursue the project.

The first choice of name was actually “Trans Africa Airlines”, but that had already been registered so we settled on “Africa World Airlines”.

The following two years were a roller coaster ride.

READ: Africa: Travellers Award Releases Final List Of Aviation Winners For Their 2021 Performance

Anyone who has ever been part of a start-up knows that it can take you to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows in quick succession. We began building our start-up team, with myself as Chief Operations Officer and Employee number 001.

Over the next few months, the core team grew to include Moses Othniel-Moses, Ivan Nartey, Nick Neequaye, Gameli Nudanu, Christabel Othelia Amegayibor, Anita Khoury, Kwasi Oteng, Ben Seshie, Ben Oti, Josephine Ahadjie and more.

There were good times and there were bad times. On one of many interminable trips to China, I remember sitting in the last row of a packed Emirates 777 (the old high-density ones they used to use on the Guangzhou route) and wondering if we would ever actually get there.

But thanks to the perseverance of the team, we got through all of it and acquired our AOC on this day 10 years ago.

I wound up physically leaving AWA in 2012 after we launched operations, but I never really left AWA behind. I ran Mogadishu airport, lived in the UAE, started another airline in Uganda and got married in Malawi – but AWA and I always seemed to be in a long-distance relationship of some sort.

Until an August morning in 2018 when I got an email from Togbe asking I was free to travel to Ghana the following week to meet with him and the Board of Directors.

That email and visit led to my second tenure as Chief Operations Officer of AWA.

It was like I had never left, with so many of my friends still there and still sharing the vision that had driven us all those years earlier. I spent nearly two and a half years there on my second round, again dealing with the highs of success as the airline continued to expand profitably, and the lows of the COVID-19 pandemic where we once again faced an existential challenge.

Yet AWA came through stronger than ever. The airline conceived on the back of a paper napkin with Sino-African parentage is now no longer struggling for survival.

Multiple million passengers have been safely transported, hundreds of employees have honed their skills, and West African aviation is no longer the punchline of jokes about safety and reliability.

The team led today by Yingli Zhou is poised to take the airline to the next level.

Happy 10th birthday my dearest Africa World Airlines. I wish you every success in the future. You will always soar through the clouds in my heart and in my dreams

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