Photograph — ANAC

Cameroon’s flag carrier Camair-Co has suspended flights to fellow West African nations as the airline struggles to stay afloat. Reports show that the state-run airline recalled its staff from Abidjan, Lagos, and Cotonou on October 16.

Along with recalling its personnel, the General Manager of Camair-Co, Louis Georges Njipendi Kuotu also issued a suspension of the routes to Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Benin, The East African reported citing Cameroon publication Top Business.

Operating out of Douala International Airport, the Cameroon Airlines Corporation (Camair-Co) took over the operations of Cameroon Airlines, the previous flag carrier in 2006, with its inaugural flight coming five years after.

Before the latest development, Camair-Co flew to about 11 destinations including Paris, Cotonou, Lagos, Brazzaville, Kinshasa, Yaoundé, among others.

Dim outlook

The management decision to suspend operations in neighbouring countries is linked to the gloomy financial prospects for the carrier. Since taking to the skies in 2011, it has been struggling with financial and managerial crisis. At some point, the airline got a cash injection of $64 million from the government.

Camair-Co currently has six aircraft in its fleet. It inherited one Boeing B767-300 from the former carrier and bought two Boeing B737s and two Chinese-made MA60 planes at launch while adding one Bombardier aircraft last year. However, some of its aircraft are reported to be grounded for different reasons.

The airline has been uncompetitive, blamed largely on its small fleet due to which the airline has recorded high levels of flight cancellations. That has affected its profitability over time with a report by Boeing Consulting saying the carrier recorded a deficit of $60 million between 2012 and 2014.

A sum of $34.2 million was also owed by state enterprises, the report said while it recommended a government bailout, cash injection of $101 million and an expansion of the fleet to save the struggling carrier.

Political interference

Dubbed The Star of Cameroon, Camair-Co is often referred to as a “pet project” of long-serving President Paul Biya who only recently changed the leadership of the airline.

The President in May fired the former General Manager of the company, Ernest Dikoum, and his deputy Moussa Habouba. Dikoum, who formerly held the position of regional director for Senegal and Guinea at Emirates Airlines, had spent just 33 months as GM.

A former chairman of the Board of Directors of the Airlines Corporation, Kuotu, was installed as the GM while Max Constant Mve Minsi was appointed Deputy. President Biya also appointed current Transport Minister, Jean Ernest Massena Ngalle Bibehe as Chairman of Camair-Co’s Board.

Political interference – and corruption – is a consistent phenomenon in the sad tale of state-owned African airlines be it Cameroon Airlines, Kenya Airways, South African Airways or Air Guinea.

The story is almost always the same. African flag carriers never make enough money to cover their costs, some are insolvent, and others depend heavily on state treasuries. As years of experience have shown, their troubles can be traced to fraud, patronage, and mismanagement.

The only exception across Africa is Ethiopian Airlines – the continent’s largest airline by revenue and by profit – with its success based on a policy of non-interference despite being owned by the state. An operating model of keeping costs down, as well as focusing only on the business of people and profit is one that its African peers can emulate.

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