Autopsy of the Cameroonian airline company with Eloi Cyrille Tollo, transportation expert and former special adviser to the CEO of this company. This interview will be published in full in the October edition of Invest in Cameroon magazine.
BIC: Camair Co has just seen the arrival of its 5th CEO, 5 years after the start of its activities in 2011. Actually, doesn’t this waltz of CEOs hide structural and strategic problems such as the absence of vision or again insufficient technical and financial means which an airline company needs to be competitive?
Eloi Cyrille Tollo: Your question is very pertinent. However, allow me to reassure you that in the strategic plan, Camair Co has a vision, missions and values. All the more so as the plan was established in 2013 by the team in which I was one of the leaders. When one refers to the company’s strategic document, one notes that this vision has not changed. It is to make Camair Co “the airline company leader connecting the Atlantic coast of Africa to the rest of the world.”
But in view of the behaviour of the CEOs who followed, certain were mistaken about the aims and actions required to achieve this vision. There is a Brazilian proverb which says that “if one person dreams, it is just a dream; but if many people dream together, it is the beginning of something new”. I have the impression it is misunderstood or not understood at all, this vision has become a simple, formal slogan. Take the case of Mr. Nana Sandjo, when you read the recovery plan 2014-2015, that he proposed. You quickly realise that there is a mismatch between the 2013 vision that he applies and the operational choices he proposes. You cannot become a leading company with old Boeing 757 or perhaps 737-400 aircraft which have an average age of 30 years. It makes no sense, especially when you know that the former Camair used these planes from early 1980, 36 years ago.
BIC: You confirm then that there are actually huge structural problems…
ECT: You are right to say that our airline company has structural problems and that the resources available are insufficient. We should keep things in perspective and downplay this last point. Because, the facts show the contrary. The organisational problems arise from the inability of successive management teams to establish an organisation chart in compliance with standards. It is the reason why for more than two years the Cameroon Civil Aviation Authority (CCAA) has not approved the organisation chart submitted by Camair Co. When you analyse them in detail, you note that there are layers of dysfunction, symptomatic of chaotic organisational structures. This explains the unpredictable nature of this company’s performances, as well as all the problems encountered on all fronts: maintenance, flight safety, etc. It is the reason why on 24 June 2016, the CCAA suspended Camair Co flights to Europe. This decision was neither unreasonable nor inappropriate. Proof, the CEO has been replaced. If one makes a cybernetic analysis, that Anglo-Saxons call Viable System Model (VSM), which is a tool to analyse the sustainability of organisations, one realises that Camair Co is like a body with completely dismembered parts. There is neither harmony, nor correlation, between the overall system and the sub-systems, even less if one considers between sub-systems. I do not think that funds allocated to Camair Co are insufficient, quite the contrary. Actually, the State has made considerable efforts. To give you an idea, the government has supported this company to the tune of FCfa 31 billion from January 2015 to March 2016, being 38% below the amount expected. For months now, it is the State who has been paying the salaries of almost 900 employees, at FCfa 560 million monthly, for a revenue figure that ranges between FCfa 400 and 500 million monthly. It is also the State who pays for aircraft maintenance or the rental of leased aircraft. The State is thus doing a great deal, but the fault lies with the managers who do not know how to use the boon.
BIC: The American firm Boeing has recently submitted a recovery plan for Camair Co to the Cameroonian government, with particular emphasis on strengthening the fleet and including new destinations. Do you think this is sufficient to effectively help the company to take off?
ECT: No! Boeing’s proposal is not at all objective. This is the state of affairs, unless Boeing has not realised the same as us. Camair Co fleet is made up of five planes which are only used at 26% of their capacity. They spend 74% of their time on ground and the reasons are numerous: breakdowns, lack of spare parts, lack of pilots, etc. If you simply add 10 more aircraft as Boeing proposes, without having reorganised activities beforehand, you multiply the problems by three and the passengers will still not come back. In 2016, the seat-occupancy rate of Camair Co airplanes, is less than 20%. Without connectivity nor punctuality, regularity nor security, there may admittedly be more planes, destinations too; but they will always fly almost empty. If the Boeing plan is implemented as is, instead of hopes, there will be illusions in no time.
BIC: In your opinion, what other levers should be activated to effectively stimulate this airline company and ensure its profitability?
ECT: Presently Camair Co has monthly revenues which range between FCfa 400 to 500 million whereas expenditure is almost at FCfa 5 billion a month. It needs a quick downsizing, it is what all companies in difficulty do. Moreover, companies that are sustainable are those that become resilient. They know how to adapt, to reinvent themselves and change when they difficulties occur. Dr. Mefiro Oumarou, the new Chairman of the Board of Directors, is right to say that they need to create a new Camair Co. I would even say they need to create Camair Co 2.0. That is a smaller size, modern company with an emphasis on NICT. A profitable, more attractive Camair Co with new services, a company that puts its customers at the centre of its concerns. Theoretical tools generally used to make companies profitable are well known and revolve around drastically reducing costs and significantly increasing revenues.