South Africa-based TAAG Angola Airlines continues to struggle in a difficult operating environment in Africa, CCO William Boulter told ATW in an exclusive interview last week at the IATA AGM in Cancun. 

“Angola is very much tied to the oil industry. For TAAG, the biggest single issue is the lack of foreign exchange in investment,” he said. 

“Our last financial results included a one-time financial effect that will be not available this year; 2017 is a challenge,” he said. “There is growth in the first quarter; also cargo shows a slight improvement. However, the market is still down, which directly impacts the balance sheet.”

Because of its financial situation, Boulter said TAAG is not able perform necessary passenger cabin upgrades. The carrier’s three 10-year-old Boeing 777-200ERs would need such a cabin upgrade, he said. “We still do not have the money. Cost reductions will continue,” he told ATW.

He also said the use of regional jets within Angola, such as Embraer E190s, would be more economical instead of Boeing 737-700s. “Our five 737-700s each have 120 seats. Maybe on four routes this aircraft size is useful. The other sectors would require regional jets. We cannot change the fleet from the past,” he said.

However, Boulter said TAAG’s two latest brand-new 777-300ERs—which operate on the flagship route to Portugal—have enabled the carrier to win market share from TAP Portugal.

TAAG Angola Airlines, based at Quatro de Fevereiro Airport in Luanda, serves 31 domestic and international destinations with a fleet of 13 Boeing 737-700s and 777-200/300ERs. “We are considering relaunching flights to Beijing, one of the longest nonstop flights in the world,” Boulter said.

TAAG was able to reschedule timetables to offer better connections, like Cape Town-Luanda services, with immediate connection to Portugal and Brazil. “Cape Town will become a daily service from November. TAAG will continue connecting traditional markets, like Mozambique with Brazil,” he said.

Current 11X-weekly Luanda-Lisbon flights should become double-daily services, bringing total flights to Portugal to 17 every week. He said 3X-weekly Porto services will remain.

Even though TAAG has reduced staff from 3,900 to 3,300, Boulter said Angola’s national airline is still overstaffed. “For example, when we started, TAAG had three catering companies—one each first-, business- and economy-class sections. These have been reduced to one unit,” he said.

The Angolan government is the majority shareholder in TAAG.

In 2014, the Angola government and Emirates Airline signed an agreement to appoint a management team to assist and develop the carrier. Chairman and CEO Peter Hill has held the position since September 2015.

Kurt Hofmann, hofmann.aviation@netway.at