A newly created Angolan airline that had announced a major aircraft deal with Bombardier Inc. is a “fictitious company” and won’t be allowed to fly, Angola’s President says.
Bombardier says it is still forging ahead with the aircraft sale, worth an estimated US$198-million, because the official buyer is a legal entity, regardless of the airline’s fate.
Bombardier announced on May 5 that it had signed a contract to sell six Q400 turboprops to Angola to be flown by a new airline known as Air Connection Express.
In its announcement, Bombardier said the airline would be a “stable domestic airline operation for Angola” with the support of a consortium of public and private companies. “We congratulate Air Connection Express as it launches its domestic air travel business,” Bombardier sales executive Jean-Paul Boutibou said in the statement.
The same Bombardier announcement quoted an Air Connection Express representative as saying that Angola will “benefit tremendously” from the consortium, which “has Angola’s citizens’ needs at heart.”
Shortly after the announcement, Angola’s leading anti-corruption activist, Rafael Marques de Morais, reported that several of the consortium’s owners were senior members of the inner circle of Angolan President Joao Lourenco, including his brother, his chief of staff and the head of the presidential intelligence bureau.
Asked about this report during a European television interview, Mr. Lourenco said the new airline is “a fictitious company” that “will not take off, will not happen.”
He said he is challenging Angolan passengers to call him and inform him if they ever fly on any airplane of the purported new airline.
Bombardier commercial aircraft spokeswoman Nathalie Siphengphet, however, says Bombardier is pushing ahead with the Angola deal because it executed the formal purchase agreement with a separate company, African Aero Trading, “which according to our records is an existing entity.”
In its May 5 announcement, Bombardier said it had signed a “firm purchase agreement” with African Aero Trading “on behalf of the consortium forming Air Connection Express.”
Ms. Siphengphet, responding to questions from The Globe and Mail, said Bombardier “recently became aware of certain comments made in the media by Angola’s President.” But she would not comment on the President’s statement.
She said Bombardier has “no knowledge” of the names mentioned by Mr. Marques in his reporting on the new airline’s consortium.
Mr. Marques, writing on his Angolan anti-corruption website and citing state media reports, said Mr. Lourenco’s government had provided a US$143-million financing guarantee for the Bombardier deal and had sent its transport minister to Canada to help negotiate the purchase.
“He is now denying it exists,” Mr. Marques wrote. “Who is lying? Or is it just Lourenco trying out a Jedi mind trick that ‘it never happened’?”
Bombardier has enjoyed success in selling its airplanes to many airlines across Africa. More than 37 African operators are now flying planes from Bombardier’s Q series, the company says.
But the questions about the Angola deal, along with the continuing controversy over a Bombardier sale to the politically connected Gupta family in South Africa, have illustrated the risks of some of these African sales.
The Guptas, who fled South Africa after facing police raids and arrest warrants on corruption charges, purchased a Bombardier Global 6000 luxury jet in 2015 for a price of US$52-million, with the help of financing from Canada’s export credit agency, Export Development Canada. This year, EDC has been embroiled in court cases to try to recover the jet, alleging that the Guptas have defaulted on the loan. Bombardier and EDC have denied any flaws in their due diligence on the Gupta deal.
In recent months, according to African media reports, Bombardier has sold commercial aircraft to airlines or other clients in Tanzania, Uganda, Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia and Angola.
“Bombardier has been targeting emerging markets across the world. Including Africa,” Ms. Siphengphet said.
“We already have a solid foothold on the African continent with several Q series turboprops and CRJ regional jets in operation or on order from customers.”
Bombardier’s aircraft are “well-suited for Africa, its climate and altitude,” she said.