September 11, 2017: Iron Maiden frontman and chairman of Cardiff Aviation Bruce Dickinson says that air freight is important to Djibouti and the plan is to have a freighter operation under Air Djibouti, the national flag carrier of the Republic of Djibouti.
“The plan, in the near future, is to take a 737 freighter down there (Djibouti) to redistribute goods that come into the Djibouti sea port to countries around in Africa and the Middle East,” said Dickinson in an exclusive interview to Logistics Update Africa. “The key now is to rationalize the whole set up to target the real growth areas. Obviously freight is important,” he added.
Dickinson, an aviation entrepreneur and a pilot, who has years of experience flying in West Africa, is well aware of the great potential Djibouti has because of its geographical position. “Because of its proximity to the global sea trade route we have a crazy situation where aircraft from the UAE are flying into Djibouti empty and taking goods back to the UAE or taking them onwards to Africa. Well, that is very nice for UAE, Djibouti should be doing that,” he argues.
In May 2015 Cardiff Aviation signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Air Djibouti to create and implement a national carrier for the East African nation of Djibouti. Under the terms of the MoU, Cardiff Aviation was contracted to implement and manage a European-level Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) for Air Djibouti, source aircraft, and provide world-class operational management for Air Djbouti that went into liquidation back in 2002 after years of mismanagement.
“I delivered the very first aircraft, which was a Boeing 737, flying from Cardiff to Djibouti. Then it went into passenger service. We moved on now to a point where a lot of things are working very well down there for the airline. We finally got over the initial launch phase,” said Dickinson.
Responding to a question about when the freighter is likely to join the fleet, Dickinson said that it all depends on two things: first, investment and second, on the development of the cargo facilities on the ground at the airport.
“It would be fantastic if we could get a freighter operation up and running. But the limitation on the freighter operation is actually not the operation of the aircraft; the limitation is of the infrastructure around the airport itself,” he explained.
When asked about how specifically he intends to take this plan off the ground and what are the tailwinds for air cargo in Djibouti, Dickinson said of two things that need to be done.
“One is to put a cargo aircraft that can distribute within three or four hours locally and the other one that we are looking at distribution using a wide body. Obviously that is going to be a little bit more challenging. Once the terminal really starts producing stuff we will look at moving stuff not just locally in Africa but across the continent.”
According to Dickinson, sea-air cargo is a huge market and to get the goods from East Africa to West Africa by sea takes an enormous amount of time. That requires a degree of infrastructure in the airport itself.
“We are in the process of securing for Djibouti the appropriate investment in ground equipment and security equipment to enable proper warehousing facilities. We can then move to the next phase which is putting an aircraft in place,” he added.
On the passenger side of the business, Dickinson is proposing to renew the fleet for Air Djibouti and he said that it could be done in the next one year.
“We are actually looking at purchasing a new aircraft. We are in the middle of looking at a 70-seat regional airliner of some description. We are fairly well advanced on that. There will be two of those and what they will enable us to do is to fly all the regional routes like Addis, Mogadishu, perhaps Yeme.”
However, according to Dickinson, in addition to the small aircraft there is a need for large aircraft to really unlock the value potential in Djibouti.
“We need the big key to open the box in Djibouti which is direct transport links to Europe. To that end, the Boeing 767-200, which is owned by the Republic of Djibouti, is in my hanger in Cardiff right now, in pieces, being put back together and given an upgrade.”
Dickinson expects to have this aircraft ready by the middle or the end of October this year. The plan is to have the services to London and possibly Paris launched by spring next year.
“I would imagine that there would also be a requirement above and beyond the two regional airliners. There might be requirement as we get traffic growth possibly for a slightly larger and long range jet that could do, for example, India and obviously to the Gulf destinations. 767 of course is a good machine. It is extremely long range. It would, for example, be very comfortable flying Djibouti to China nonstop. Or it could do Lagos nonstop,” he said.
Speaking about the next stage for Air Djibouti Dickinson said that it is actually above and beyond running freight and passenger services.
“The next stage for Air Djibouti is to returning to its regulatory authorities to follow ICAO compliance which means Air Djibouti will be able to have its own aircraft, its own registrations with its own airline operating certificate. At the moment, obviously, anything that comes out of Djibouti and flies internationally has to operate on somebody else’s airline certificate. The ideal situation in Djibouti is to have its own regulatory authority. We are working towards that with the government and ICAO to get compliance so that Air Djibouti can fly unrestricted under its own steam as they were to anywhere in the world,” he said.
“I would be very disappointed if we didn’t have it within the next one year,” he added.