Despite weak demand in the current climate, Zewoldi is positioning the airline for long-term growth by receiving another four aircraft over the next five years.
These will be the same types currently deployed in the fleet – Boeing 737s and Bombardier Q400s – with the first unit arriving in 2015. Larger widebody jets are not being sought, however, as Zewoldi believes that ASKY should “remain a regional carrier”.
While 60% of ASKY’s traffic is routed through Lomé, the fragmented nature of the regional market means that onward flights between foreign countries are also operated.
This so-called fifth-freedom flying is again contingent on the support of local governments, which must designate ASKY as an authorised carrier on each route. With political backing across the sub-region, the airline has secured connections such as Douala, Cameroon, to Congo-Brazzaville; Niamey, Niger, to N’Djamena, Chad; and Bamako, Mali, to Ougadougou, Burkina Faso. Prior to the Ebola suspensions, the capitals of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea were also used as springboards.
It is a model which Zewoldi wants to develop further in Accra, Ghana, the economic powerhouse across Togo’s western border. ASKY already operates a handful of fifth-freedom flights from the city, but is now planning a “satellite hub” to significantly expand its presence.
“If you look at our network, almost all our flights operate during the day, and our aircraft are parked in the night. So we can use the aircraft down-time during the night to operate out of Accra,” he explains. “We have formulated some ideas and in a couple of months we will go for the implementation. Several of our destinations would work – like N’Djamena, Bamako, Niamey, Dakar, Kinshasa and Brazzaville.”
Expansion in Ghana will be welcome news to ASKY stakeholder and Star Alliance member Ethiopian Airlines, whose chief executive has expressed interest in establishing Accra as its second West African base.
But while ASKY has, in Zewoldi’s words, “first-mover advantage” across the sub-region, its strategic plans are wholly dependent on the global community’s ability to successfully combat Ebola. Until governments, airlines, companies and passengers feel confident that West African cities are safe for travel, the full potential of this home-grown success story will not be realised.