Korongo Airlines sets up shop in Lubumbashi
Allard, a Belgian national previously in charge of African projects at Brussels Airlines, said that the two partners had formed a Belgian-registered holding company in which Brussels Airlines holds a 50.5% stake and GFI 49.5%. The holding company in turn owns 70% of Korongo, with Congolese investors putting in the remaining 30%. Allard said the shareholders invested “around 10 million dollars for the starting phase”.
“With GFI and the Congolese shareholders, there is a strong Congolese identity. This is important when requesting an AOC” (air operator’s certificate), Allard said. He added that Korongo, whose name is a Swahili term for large migrating birds, had applied for the licence on Thursday.
Korongo plans to open a “quasi-daily” service between Lubumbashi, the capital of the mineral-rich province of Katanga, and Kinshasa, the national capital, by the end of this year. Congo Express, a joint venture between South African Express and another group of Congolese investors, opened a similar service earlier this year, also serving the diamond centre of Mbuji-Mayi. Allard said Korongo would then look into other domestic services as well as regional cross-border flights.
Brussels Airlines has earmarked three of its Boeing 737-300 aircraft, capable of carrying 120 to 140 passengers, for Korongo. “They will be modified to carry radio and navigation systems more suitable to the African environment, as well as cabin alterations. Comfort is very important ... it will not be a low-cost style service,” Allard said
He said that the start and development of operations would depend on renovation works at Congolese airports. “Even Lubumbashi must have some works done before we begin,” he said. “We are putting a bit of pressure on the authorities on that issue,” he added. Katanga governor Moïse Katumbi has reportedly threatened to close down Lubumbashi airport if the national authorities did not begin improvement works there by April 30. Allard cited “runways, navigation assistance, fire rescue and lighting” as areas of concern preventing Korongo from flying to provincial airports at the moment.
Allard said GFI and Brussels Airlines would start staff training programmes in preparation for recruitment, which Korongo will launch after it obtains its licence. “The next step is the AOC. From then on, we will be able to confirm recruitment, begin ticketing and bring in the first aircraft,” he said.