Berthé of a new era

Abderahmane Berthé,New Secretary General of AFRAA.Cyril NDEGEYA

Former Air Burkina and Air Mali CEO, Abderahmane Berthé, was named as the next African Airlines Association (AFRAA) secretary general during the association’s annual general assembly (AGA) in Kigali, Rwanda. Victoria Moores caught up with Berthé to learn about his plans.

During the AFRAA AGA there was a lot of talk about shoes.

“African airlines need to design their own shoe that fits them. Don’t try and cut and paste business models,” AFRAA president and RwandAir acting CEO, Chance Ndagano, said. Likewise, new AFRAA secretary general, Abderahmane Berthé, will tread his own path when he takes office in January.

“You need to have huge feet to fit into Elijah’s shoes,” International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Eastern and Southern African (ESAF) regional director, Barry Kashambo, said, referring to the legacy of outgoing AFRAA secretary general Elijah Chingosho.

Berthé’s response was humble: “I will not try and compare with the many things that Elijah has done,” he said.

Berthé witnessed Chingosho’s achievements first hand. He was on the AFRAA executive committee seven years ago, when Chingosho was promoted to secretary general.

Under Chingosho’s leadership, AFRAA grew from 25 to 37 airlines. The 16-year AFRAA veteran created the association’s first business plan and cut the price of airline membership twice by developing other income streams. Today airline fees contribute just 30% of total revenues, compared with 85% when Chingosho took office. He also cut costs for members through joint fuel and ground-handling purchasing projects, and grew revenues through a network-planning group.

“When I became secretary general, there were major challenges to overcome to ensure AFRAA was seen as a serious organisation. I am very proud of what we’ve been able to achieve together, especially in the areas of safety and joint projects. I would like to thank my team profoundly for their support and urge them to give similar backing to my successor,” Chingosho said.

The outgoing secretary general, who hands over the leadership of AFRAA in January, is planning to “smell the flowers and breathe fresh air” for six months, before becoming a consultant. “I will continue to work in the industry and be an ambassador for the association,” he said.

AFRAA’s new secretary general is not used to fresh air; Berthé has been breathing in kerosene since he was a child. “I was watching aircraft land and take off at Bamako International Airport and, as a young boy, I was fascinated. It was hard to imagine what featured in my future. I was far too naïve.”

That little boy went on to become CEO of Bamako-based Air Mali and Air Burkina, accumulating 28 years’ aviation experience. Berthé has also been an aircraft performance engineer and a private pilot.

“After 16 years as an airline CEO, I know how difficult it can be to run an airline,” he said. “I want AFRAA to be effective and create value for its member airlines and partners. For many, many years, we have been talking about the same things. There has been progress, but not enough.”

Berthé is a French speaker. “We are an association of airlines, not languages,” Kenya Airways CEO, Sebastian Mikosz, said, announcing Berthé’s appointment and switching into French. “Our new secretary general is francophone. I hope, in the future, we can be the body of our industry without being divided by language.” The next AGA will be in French-speaking Morocco.

Getting down to business, safety and security are Berthé’s top priorities. While airlines have to be IATA IOSA-registered to be full members, he wants to work with smaller airlines to improve the safety image of African aviation. “We should bring smaller airlines – even those that are not members of AFRAA – to a good level. We are working on setting up a safety and security assessment for African airlines. I think members should help associate members get IOSA certified, so they can become full members.”

His second priority is connectivity, stepping up the work of AFRAA’s route and network committee to truly connect the dots. “They have done a good job on interlines, special purchase agreements and codeshares, but I want to go another step, to focus on routes where there is no connectivity and see how airlines can feed them.”

AFRAA will gather the data to support this work. “It’s not easy,” he said. “You can’t just ask another airline to delay their flight by an hour – they’d think you’re crazy – you have to work at it.”

Market access comes next. Back in 1994, when Berthé was a young CEO, he recalls attending a meeting to push through intra-African liberalisation. More than two decades on, he is still waiting on the outcome of that meeting. “I have seen progress, but it’s been very slow. If you don’t have access to markets, how do you fill your aircraft and get good load factors?”

Finally, he plans to battle high industry costs – maybe even naming and shaming monopoly suppliers – and improve training cooperation among AFRAA members. “We have to keep the pressure on,” he said.

As Chingosho said farewell at his final AGA, he added: “I look forward to meeting you all – well I hope I will be there – at the next AGA in the Kingdom of Morocco.” But Berthé is not about to abandon his old friend: “I just want to assure you, you will be invited,” he replied, as the curtains went down in Kigali. (africanaerospace)

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