How did you get into aviation?

My Dad was an engineer for BEA and then British Airways, and used to take me to the hangar as a boy, and I knew then I wanted to work in aviation. I joined BA and built up some excellent experience working across many different departments then moved to British Midland as a check-in agent before working my way up to shift manager. I then rejoined BA and was promoted to senior manager, responsible for managing all of the African airports. It was in 2005, after seven years working across Africa, that I took a giant leap and set up Astra Aviation.

What prompted you to set up Astra Aviation?

Whilst working at BA in the early noughties, I saw a niche in the market and an opportunity to outsource the African airport operation. I strongly believed that by outsourcing it to my management team, we could deliver the same or better service levels without the constraints of big corporation overheads or having to meet shareholder targets. As a private company, we could recruit more staff and take on more contracts. Considered a bit too risky by BA at that time, I went for it and left to set up Astra Aviation. BA is now a customer in Angola.

What does your working week consist of?

If I’m in one of our Astra locations, I’ll typically meet the local authorities, suppliers and of course our fabulous team of staff who support our cargo, commercial and business aviation services. Familiarising myself with airports and suppliers is key to building up local knowledge to pass on to our customers; its what makes us different. Office-based work means managing the finances of the nine Astra Aviation company locations we operate. Of course I’m always keen to seek out new opportunities in this burgeoning continent.

Is working mainly in Africa challenging?

It’s incredibly challenging as the airport and communications infrastructure is not what many of our customers are used to, for example our staff carry multiple phones, using different networks to help ensure reliability. Many airports, handling agents and CAAs do not have the funding to invest in equipment, staff and training so we have to think on our feet. However as we invest in training and staff, we are able to support our suppliers in addition to clients. Language, customs and culture can also be very different so we make it a priority to employ local staff who have travelled extensively internationally and can liaise with our local agencies, who are bilingual.

How do you see the continent developing?

The continent is receiving lots of press and foreign investment interest but the low commodity prices are putting much investment into major projects on hold. At Astra, we believe it is important to invest in the future and have new offices planned in Mozambique, Guinea and Zimbabwe. We always spread our risk and work with a wide variety of customers, offering a wide range of operational services. As an independent company, all of them can rely on us for our neutrality in supplying them.

What do you enjoy most about working in Africa?

Having worked in Africa for over 20 years, I can honestly say that the most enjoyable aspect is the brilliant people I work with and meet. The dedication and sheer goodwill makes many of the challenges just that little bit easier. I also get to see some of this great continent, albeit much is through an aircraft window!

What does the next 12 months hold for Astra Aviation?

We will focus on consolidating existing businesses and growing new ones. We are using more and more technology, including iPads, to automate all our flight management and invoicing, we are also investing in human resources and training software. We are also putting in place multiple communication channels to ensure our customers are always kept informed. In the coming months, we will be evaluating where we will open our next office and for that we will talk to our customers to see where they need support and whether an opportunity exists.

Source: Flight International