Privately-owned Fly Angola (Luanda) has used the COVID-19 downturn to overhaul its aircraft and secure its own Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC), reports Forbes.

The company previously marketed flights as a virtual carrier by sub-contracting operations to local partner, AeroJet (Angola) (TEJ, Luanda), to operate a domestic network with one E145 D2-FDF (msn 145221) linking the capital Luanda with Dundo and Saurimo in the east, and Benguela and Lubango in the west.

However, when COVID-19 travel restrictions forced the suspension of its operations in March 2020, management used the downtime to complete a six-month certification process, resulting in the granting of its AOC from Angola’s civil aviation authority (Instituto Nacional da Aviação Civil - INAVIC) on December 21, 2020.

The airline resumed domestic flights on December 23. Although initial demand was low because of travel restrictions and COVID health protocols, traffic was starting to pick up, said General Manager Belarnício Muangala. “Our reduced service schedule has now been revised twice due to increasing demand,” he said.

Meanwhile, the carrier’s wholly-owned E145 has been re-painted in the company’s livery and has undergone heavy maintenance checks in Europe. Earlier fleet growth plans for a second E145 plus a smaller E120 have been put on hold, although they were still considered viable. “The biggest challenge is access to financing at reasonable costs in Angola rather than demand,” Muangala noted.

Expansion of the network to oil-rich Cabinda was also derailed by COVID-19 just days before the inaugural flight.

Muangala said the lockdown revealed opportunities for secondary hubs in the future. “During the state-of-emergency, Luanda province was isolated, but all mobility between the other 17 provinces was unrestricted. Buses and minivans continued their commercial services. Is this not an obvious opportunity for a hub outside of Luanda?” he asked.

Scheduled domestic traffic in Angola is dominated by flag carrier TAAG Angola Airlines (DT, Luanda), which currently uses two of its three new DHC-8-Q400s - D2-TFA (msn 4616) and D2-TFB (msn 4619) - on domestic routes to Cabinda, Huambo, Namibe, Saurimo, Ongiva, Dundo, Catumbela, Luena, and Lubango, according to FlightRadar24 ADS-B data. It also uses its three bigger B737-700s - D2-TBF (msn 34559), D2-TBG (msn 34560), and D2-TBH (msn 34561) - on domestic and regional routes.