Despite initial reluctance by then-employer British Airways to outsource airport operations, Phil Eyre took the plunge and set up his own business, Astra Aviation, and he now counts the flag carrier as one of his clients.
How did you get into aviation?
Family background in aircraft engineering sparked an interest in aviation
What prompted you to set up Astra Aviation?
Whilst at BA in the early noughties, I saw a niche in the market and an opportunity to outsource the African airport operation. I strongly believed that by outsourcing it to my management team, we could deliver the same or better service levels without the constraints of big corporation overheads or having to meet shareholder targets. As a private company, we could recruit more staff and take on more contracts. Considered a bit too risky by BA at that time, I went for it and left to set up Astra Aviation. BA is now a customer in Angola.
What does your working week consist of?
If I’m in one of our Astra locations, I’ll typically meet the local authorities, suppliers, and, of course, our fabulous team who support our cargo, commercial and business aviation services. Familiarising myself with airports and suppliers is key to building local knowledge to pass on to our customers; it’s what makes us different. Office-based work means managing the finances of the nine Astra Aviation locations we operate. Of course I’m always keen to seek out new opportunities in this burgeoning continent.
Is working mainly in Africa challenging?
It’s incredibly challenging, as the airport and communications infrastructure is not what many of our customers are used to. For example, our staff carry multiple phones, using different networks to ensure reliability. Many airports, handling agents and civil aviation authorities do not have the funding for equipment, staff and training, so we have to think on our feet. However, as we invest in training and staff, we are able to support suppliers in addition to clients. Language, customs and culture can also be very different, so we make it a priority to employ local staff who have travelled extensively internationally and can liaise with our local agencies, who are bilingual.
How do you see the continent developing?
Africa is receiving lots of press and foreign investment interest, but the low commodity prices are putting much investment into major projects on hold. At Astra, we believe it is important to invest in the future and have new offices planned in Mozambique, Guinea and Zimbabwe. We spread our risk and work with a variety of customers, offering a wide range of operational services. As an independent company, all of them can rely on us for our neutrality.
What do you enjoy most about working in Africa?
Having worked here for over 20 years, I can honestly say the most enjoyable aspect is the brilliant people I work with and meet. The dedication and sheer goodwill makes many of the challenges that little bit easier. I also get to see some of this great continent, albeit much is through an aircraft window!
What does the next 12 months hold for Astra Aviation?
We will focus on consolidating businesses and growing new ones. We are using more technology, including Apple iPads, to automate all our flight management and invoicing processes, we are also investing in human resources and training software. We are also putting in place multiple communication channels to ensure our customers are continually kept informed. In the coming months, we will be evaluating where we plan to open our next office and for that we will talk to our customers to see where they need support and whether an opportunity exists.