Summit Communications: Kenya Airways
has just opened its airlink between Nairobi
and Lubumbashi twice a week, completing
its existing link with Kinshasa five times
a week. Could you highlight the history
of Kenya Airways's particular link with
Ms. Jean UKU: As an African airline, our
goals and objectives are to expand our airlinks
as much as possible, primerily within Africa
and then all over the world. We have been
highlighting Lubumbashi for quite a long
time. We've already been in Kinshasa since
1999 with two fligths, realizing that the
country has lots of potentials, and we have
been encourged by a higher market level.
Even though, the operating cost was high
as well, but it was anyhow a good route
bringing a lot of pontential at the beginning.
Getting the idea of interest and expanding
the links within Africa, we noticed that
we were having a lot of passengers from
Lubumbashi on our Lusaka flight. A lot of
them were coming from Lubumbashi by road
or they were taking small airline companies,
operating between Lubumbashi and Lusaka,
in order to link with the East, especially
our Asian destinations like Dubai and Bombay.
Therefore, we decided to organize a direct
flight, because the mining zone of Lubumbashi
constitutes an economical center, and also
the provinces around, like the Kassai :
we are trying to gather passengers from
the surronding Mbuji Mayi city to come to
Summit Communications: Could you tell
us the story of the opening of the Lubumbashi
Ms. Jean UKU: Actually, it was not very
easy to open it because some of the issues
had to be considered, like the runway of
the airport, the security, and the absence
of screening machines. Moreover, there weren't
any fire extinguisher available when we
planned to start. Being pushed by that situation,
we went to see the Minister of Transport
and requested him to set a minimum of landing
requirements in Lubumbashi. Fortunately,
the equipments arrived, though a little
bit late, along with two big machines and
an ambulance. Once the requirements were
met, after some time, we could give the
go-ahead to start operations. Obviously,
there is some expenditure issues. If you
notice in Lubumbashi, some houses are quite
near the runway, which creates a fear of
insecurity, but we are trying to work on
Summit Communications: How are you
getting along with the Congolese institutions,
such as the Government, and the Ministry
of Transport in particular ?
Ms. Jean UKU: Whenever we have a problem,
we seek audience to the Government on our
own, or through the board of the airline
representatives. They've never refused it,
always willing to listen to us. Basically,
the attitude on the Government side is positive.
In fact, we have been seeking the very improvement
in the airport of Kinshasa as well, but
it is slowly bearing fruits. The near separation
of domestic and national flights is one
of the improvements to be perfomed by the
Government. Shortly, after a constent request
they welcome, listned to us. There are some
commitments to improve things, although
the results are slow in coming.
Summit Communications: Are you planning
to become the leading African company, within
your own Continent, referring to your strategy?
Ms. Jean UKU: Kenya Airways is a very ambitious
company. It is hard to say exactly how to
position ourselves but our strategies and
our focus are impressing our Amsterdam partner
ever since we started. We are trying to
create the same model as KLM in Nairobi,
which means we bring passengers into Nairobi
station and make the further connection.
Rigth now, we connect the passengers quite
well from African stations through Nairobi.
Indeed, a transit through Nairobi almost
immediately connects you to Europe, Dubai,
Hong Kong, and Bombay. So far, we have been
quite successful in doing that because it
is quite a niche market as opposed to our
competitors. First of all, as we wish to
extend our destinations, we need to develop
future potential hubs, as the Nairobi airport.
As an example, Kinshasa started in 1999
with two flights a week, and now we've got
five. This year, our ambitions are really
huge because we are opening new destinations
in Africa; in July: Dakar and Bamako, and
Maputo as well in November. We have just
started to link Istanbul, and we'll be starting
in China next September.We are listening
to our customer needs and monotoring their
movements as well as the market trends.
Basically, we are focusing on getting more
passengers on the flights and improving
Nairobi as a transit point.
Summit Communications: How do you manage
the "risk factor" in settling
Ms. Jean UKU: That's a good question. We
just monitor the situation very closely
and also communicate with our head office
the slightest problem that we hear of. Basically,
we don't want to take much risks if the
situation is going out of time. We prefer
to cancel some flights instead of putting
the passengers at risk at any time. We do
our own assessment, and not only listen
to what others report; then we look at our
trends and decide whether it is right or
not to act in such a way. Sometimes, others
carriers might report a bad situation; however,
we have to rely on our own assessment and
if we feel safe to fly, we do. Regarding
risks, we take some precautions: we only
operate cash, we don't accept credit cards
as we don't encourage that so much. However,
we do allow embassies and a few big organizations
to operate on a credit basis, otherwise
all tickets are paid cash. We take the necessary
security precautions in the office and at
Summit Communications: Congo is still
a challenging country regarding the Finance
sector. What would you say about your trust
in the banking system here?
Ms. Jean UKU: The banking system is all
right, until you can get the relationship
with the bank officers. The service is a
bit slow, but once you gain a kind of relationship
with the banker, things will work well.
Sometimes, they make crazy mistakes for
instance you get credit in your account
of big amount and it is only you who notice
it and you go to the bank to report about
it and it takes a rough time fixing it.
Generally speaking, the service is very
slow and there are not a lot of banks as
Summit Communications: What is your
relationship with the officials and authorities;
and how do you get along with them ?
Ms. Jean UKU: In this country, one of the
biggest problems is the absence of the Banking
System Programme, due to the risk factor.
Regarding a travel agency, cashing our tickets
from the countryside remains the major handicap.
Our ticket payments collection is performed
by ourselves. Besides, it depends on how
well you build the relationship with the
airline authorities. Kenya Airways usually
works with a good relationship with the
authorities in charge of the country. Sometimes,
we get challenged but we manage in creating
those relationships. We don't have any problem
with airport authorities; they are quite
professional, and things actually work.
Since I have been running the company, there
hasn't been any problem.
Summit Communications: To what extent
would you say whether the investments or
the earnings in DRC are profitable?
Ms. Jean UKU: Of course, it is profitable
to the extend that you can see other airlines
highlighting this destination, or other
routes within the country. It doesn't materialize
immediately but eventually, it will. The
outside world has notice that there is something
happening in connection with Congo's potential,
and it concerns Kenya Airways. Moreover,
we are trying to open new destinations in
the country such as Kisangani, and Goma,
possibly in the near future; that's part
of our plans.
Summit Communications: What is the actual
percentage of profit Kenya Airways is making
with the DRC airlinks (Lubumbashi-Kinshasa),
compared to other earnings on near destinations?
Ms. Jean UKU: I cannot answer your particular
question. We divide the world in many segments.
So, within West and Central Africa, DRC
is among the top in our network. Locally
speaking, we rank n° 2 within the airlines,
while SN Brussels ranks the first position.
In terms of passengers, on March 2005, we
had 69% growth over the previous year, and
then in terms of revenue we had a growth
of 49% comparing to our financial year that
ended in March 05. We have five flights
but you can notice that the traffic has
greatly improved in the past years. And
we expanded our destinations towards Dubai,
Bombay, but now we fly to Hong Kong and
Bangkok as well, as the Congolese likes
Summit Communications: How do you behave
towards your competitors' results ?
Ms. Jean UKU: First of all, African airlines
are becoming more and more aware of themselves.
They are willing to support each other,
which is something I find very encouraging.
Secondly, as an African airline we have
shown good services towards our passengers
and our service has been improving year
after year, and our in-flight services have
greatly improved. Besides, our punctuality
is very good, and travellers are appreciating
these things, even the smallest ones.
Our other advantage lies on our focus in
the Far- and Middle-East for local businessmen
-and women. Before, we focused on Europe
but now we have discovered many antennas
in the Far-East. We provide good connections,
and as in trading "time is money",
they can go and come back quickly.
Summit Communications: Are connections
to the USA of any interest to your company?
Ms. Jean UKU: It is very intersting for
us. Our process of affiliation within the
Sky Team has begun, so that will put us
in direct link with other companies, especially
to go to the USA. Hence the airport of Nairobi
needs to be improved, and the authorities
have already begun working on that. Once
it is completed, we will be flying to the
USA. It is an issue that is on the table.
Recently, we acquired a second Boeing 777;
the third one will come this year as well.
Indeed, that shows that we are interested
in this long road destination carrying 328
Summit Communications: In your strive
to attract more passengers here in DRC,
could you share with us some of your marketing
Ms. Jean UKU: Basically, people must know
where Kenya Airways is located. When I came
in Congo, people recognized the location
of other big airlines such as Air France,
SN Brussels Airlines. Previously, they were
quite suspicious about Kenya Airways, but
now we are making lots of activities such
as: sponsorship, advertisement, and promotions,
which have improved the image of the company
locally. Presently, with the intention of
getting more passengers most of the population
acknowoledges that Kenya Airways is reliable
and is a good African carrier. It would
get you wherever you want, going with SAFETY,
COMMITMENT and QUALITY. That's the key.
You have to provide good services to customers
so that they will come back. On the other
hand, you need to have a good relationship
with your distributors and travel agencies
as well.We are trying to increase our advertizing
policy on the street, but taxes are very
expensive. Inside our messages, we want
to show that we are both an African as well
as international company. People want to
see something unique that can identify you
for being another African airline. We were
rewarded by the Africain Travel Association
criterias: "first African Company"
last year and this year as well, for the
Summit Communications: As a young woman
manager inside the company, could you tell
us what is the space and the favor place
you are giving to women in this company?
Ms. Jean UKU: There is no discrimination,
women are treated equally as men and giving
them equal advancement opportunity in our
company. It is just a matter of performance.
We have lots of women managers such as myself
in our headquaters. When they positioned
me here since 2003, I immediately accepted,
realizing later that it was a bigger challenge
than I thought. I like challenging situations.
Here, I discovered some isues particular
to Congo and not elsewhere, such as a lack
of control in your sanitary installation
in the office. Paying your electricity bills'taxes
every month takes a lot of our time, and
you sometimes have to push people a lot
to get some results; the general attitude
of the population is very laid back.
On the other hand, people are ambitious,
but they guess they can get everything easily,
without doing much effort and by taking
a shortcut. For instance, Mbuji Mayi is
a rich city, but there are no roads. That's
one problem of mentality coming from the
previous years. They need to realize that
it takes a hard work in order to be in charge
of your own.
Summit Communications: In what ways
do you try to bring social improvements
within your company?
Ms. Jean UKU: By giving the opportunities
for training to our staff in the sales office
and at the airport. We are trying to send
them to Nairobi to expose their capacities
through intensive trainings. Exposure is
very important in order to see how things
work in the headquarters, in order to import
the same things here. We sponsor some social
events such as Lions'Club, who are very
involved in social activities. Some diplomatic
lady associations do a lot of projects for
the needy. We give as much support to missionaries
and NGO's by providing cargo on our flights,
since their work is very crucial.
Summit Communications: What will be
your message and vision for Kenya Airways
in DRC within the next five years?
Ms. Jean UKU: We are becoming a major operator
in the airline industry; the n°1 in
terms of offering links from the cities
of DRC to the outside world. We have already
started looking into that strategy and I
believe it is going to bear fruits in a
few coming years. We are going to be reckoned
as a good airline in terms of service, punctuality,
and quality. We are becoming stronger than
ever. Our partner Air France bought KLM;
you never known what the future might bring
and I do not know whether we should joint
force with Air France in this market. Furthermore,
business was interesting in the cargo side
especially incoming cargo. There was a lot
of importations, which is proving that business
is growing. For example, in Mbuji Mayi you'll
see a lot of cargo planes at the airport.
Within a challenging environment we appreciate
the effort of the Government to make the
business to operate easier for airlines