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Democratic Republic of CONGO - INTERVIEW 
Interview with Ms. Jean UKU
KENYA AIRWAYS Country Director


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 DRC?

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 Lubumbashi.

Summit Communications: Could you tell us the story of the opening of the Lubumbashi airstop?

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 that.

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 within Congo?

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 the airport.

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 well.

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 travelling.

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 passengers.

Summit Communications: In your strive to attract more passengers here in DRC, could you share with us some of your marketing strategies?

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 second time.

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 operator.