Some people musings and airline facts along the sidelines of ‘From the flight deck’ interview in AirWaves, our international newsletter. By James Foster, Chairman, AirlinePros.
I traveled to Brazil to interview Eduardo Fairen Soria and Lisa Mota-Pinto McNally, the Chief Executive and Chief Commercial Officer respectively of TAAG – Angola’s national airline – in Salvador, Brazil recently. The pair were in the country to attend the CAPA Airline Conference and to participate in a series of press conferences and trade receptions in Sao Paolo and Rio De Janeiro to promote TAAG’s new services from Sao Paolo’s Guarulhos airport to Luanda, Angola.
They arrived on one of TAAG’s striking blood orange, white and black Boeing B787-300ERs. These were not drab ‘grey suited functionaries’ of a faceless African government airline, but instead were raffish, stylish executives in their late 40s early 50’s at the top of their game. They were armed with superlative educations, immense experience and sharp senses of humor – especially after the third round of Caipirinhas, the Brazilian national libation made with Cachaca, a spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice. It was a spirited interview, no pun intended.
Luanda, if the reader is not familiar with it, is the vibrant capital of an undiscovered, potential touristic gem of a country (pop. 9 million) that has instituted a Visa on Arrival program to boost its touristic allure. The country is situated at the northern end of the Atlantic Coast of Southern Africa. A new 13 million passenger capacity airport, opening in 2023, is nearing completion, some 40 km from the city that will offer a streamlined, South Atlantic gateway directly to the African interior, including Cape Town, Johannesburg, Windhoek, Maputo, Kinshasa and Lagos. A number of smaller African countries and tourist centers will follow.
Key to accelerating the Luanda hub development and spreading their risk, TAAG has already instituted ‘double daily’ B777 frequencies from Luanda to Lisbon – and linked Luanda to Madrid three times weekly to introduce the recently signed codeshare agreement with the Spanish flag carrier – Iberia – thereby affording the Luanda hub access to 143 new destinations on the Spanish carriers’ network. Coupled with the increase of destinations in southern and central Africa, like Zambia and Zimbabwe, TAAG is rapidly fleshing out its African hub and spoke system.
Eduardo and Lisa, as was obvious when I met them, are clearly the primary drivers of the TAAG transformation from a sleepy, government-owned airline operating ‘in the red’ from the public purse, to becoming a vital airline rapidly moving to attain the status of a ‘reference carrier’. Eduardo defined a ‘reference carrier’ as an airline that passengers consciously choose to fly over all others when they have a choice – delivering an international standard product, at a competitive price, with an African flavor and Angolan flair.
I really did not have a clue what I was in for when I sat down with Eduardo and Lisa or even how we could get along. I had never met Eduardo and had only spoken with Lisa for a short time in Cape Town at the African Aviation Development Conference in July. She was described by a colleague as being smart, (undergraduate degree from UPT, Master’s degree in Mathematics, MBA from Henley Business School in the UK) and ‘to the point’. I was warned that “she did not suffer fools gladly” and has been known to cut off presenters in “mid power-point” if they cannot make their point succinctly to her satisfaction. Her job history includes stops at the crème de la crème of major carriers, including Qatar Airways and Emirates. Looking over Eduardo’s biography, I noted that he is a graduate of the Spanish Air Force Academy, a pilot with 19,000 hours, and has had a series of challenging jobs in the aviation industry with an emphasis in Engineering, Maintenance, Operations and turnarounds.
With this in mind I prepared for our interview. Happily, AirlinePros has a near decade long relationship with TAAG, representing them ably in the USA and Canada. In June of 2022, AirlinePros took over responsibility for passenger sales in Brazil for TAAG – in charge of rebuilding a brand that had been languishing in the country – overstaffed and underperforming. Working together, the two have managed to make the brand fly in Brazil in a short period of time with the able support of Altamiro Medici and Rebecca Meadows. The frequency between Sao Paulo and Luanda has grown from thrice weekly to four beginning November 5 and they have already announced a fifth weekly from early December. It is tipped to expand to expand to six by mid-2023.
Good work happens with good people at the helm.