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Disturbing Instability

The national carrier, Camair-Co was back into the news this weekend with the designation of a new Chief Executive Officer.

Ordinarily, changes at the head of any enterprise are perceived as signs to get things going for the better and are generally meant to instill new blood into the system, give it new tonic or simply get under-achieving or incompetent managers out of the way. The statement announcing the appointment of the new CEO did not give any explanation as to why the outgoing one was being given the boot.

It is however an open secret that the best of professional relations did not exist between the outgoing CEO and the chairman of the board, if repeated reports in renowned Douala tabloids were anything to count on. But no one was so certain that the company was going to be back in the news with what is has singularly accustomed its customers and the generality of Cameroonian to, and generally matters that fuel the rumour machine.

The company was set up in 2006 to replace the ailing Cameroon Airlines which was going through economic hardships and was so over-burdened with debt that it could hardly continue to operate. But what was conceived to be a salutary initiative has rather produced results which are far from excellent. Almost ten years after its creation and since its inaugural flight in 2011, Camair-Co is yet to attain full operational capacity.

The sheer number of CEOs appointed in the past nine years is already telling of the disturbing instability which has characterized the functioning of the company. Five Chief Executive Officers in nine years! It began with Frenchman Gilbert Mitonneau in 2005 whose task was to put the company on the rails. He could not do it quickly enough and Dutchman Alex van Elk came on board in February 2010 and worked reasonably hard enough to ensure the first flight of the company the next year.

Things did not get along as smoothly as the company owners, the State of Cameroon, wished and soon there was the appointment of another Dutchman Matthijs Boetien in January 2013, brought in ostensibly to correct the wrongs of his countryman. But things did not improve either. The board of directors now looked endogenously inwards for a fine Cameroonian catch who they found in Frédéric Mbotto Edimo on September 11, 2013.

Just nine months after, here we are again with a new team leader! Each passing appointment has been followed with statements highlighting the experience or knowledge of the new CEO. Van Elk was credited for having run a very successful commercial airline before coming on board while the experience of his successor Boetien as chief operating officer of Camair-co was highlighted as a value-added.

Mr Edimo was credited with very specialized and technical expertise in the airline industry at the time of his designation as CEO. Now, we hear one of the reasons for highly considering the new CEO is the fact that he deals with plane spares as a business.  But here we are virtually with the same problems the company has been going through since its incorporation and which successive bosses have either eluded or have not given the necessary attention to.

Camair-Co is certainly in dire straits and to use a more appropriate civil aviation terminology, in a turbulent zone and needs to stabilize itself lest its enthusiastic customers of its starting years continue to jump off board because of its numerous problems, the most noted of which are late departures and arrivals, cancelled flights, the holding down of planes in foreign airports for unpaid bills or unfulfilled business commitments, loss of baggage and the like.

Knowing that the choice of an airline for a trip is a personal decision and not necessarily pegged on nationalism or patriotism, it is incumbent on the new leadership to immediately address these issues which, small as they may appear, can be very damaging on the image of the company, especially in such a competitive area as civil aviation.

Granted, when a customer makes a choice on an airline, it is not because of the person at the head of that airline, but because of the quality of services offered; and such services can only be driven by a manager fully aware of the problems of the airline. It was about time Camair-Co stopped talking about itself in other terms than those about improved quality and service.

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