In an unlikely combination of elements, Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson is hoping to leverage Malta’s aviation expertise to support a fledgling airline in the east African nation of Djibouti while helping to foster a relationship between the two countries.
Mr Dickinson, who wrapped up a five-month tour with the band just a week ago, is also an experienced pilot who set up an aviation company, VVB, in Malta last year, part of the UK based Cardiff Aviation.
He was on the island briefly yesterday on his way to deliver the first aircraft for Air Djibouti, the new national carrier for the high-reaching country of one million citizens in the Horn of Africa.
The Boeing 737-400 left St Athan airport in Wales on Tuesday before collecting additional air and cabin crew in Malta. The aircraft will arrive in Djibouti City around 10am today, where it will be met by the country’s President and a water-cannon salute.
“Many African countries have been badly let down by Western countries, who have extracted resources and natural materials and not given a great deal back,” Mr Dickinson told the Times of Malta.
“Our goal is to build an indigenous aviation infrastructure, which is a good deal for both parties, training local cabin crew and eventually pilots. We’re going in thinking long-term, but with the expertise that exists here in Malta, we’re very confident.”
Air Djibouti’s activities were relaunched in May 2015, with management entrusted to Cardiff Aviation. Following the aircraft being delivered from Malta today, it is expecting the delivery of two BA146-300s by mid-September and mid-October, and a Boeing 767-200 in December this year.
The new airline, according to Mr Dickinson, could initially outsource regulatory advice from aviation authorities in Malta and transplant it to Djibouti, helping to spread a culture of safety and compliance.
“The regulatory environment in Malta is tough but pragmatic,” he said. “What you want is an authority that’s tough on safety and standards but pragmatic when it comes to business exigencies; the authority here understands the needs of a small airline but expects the same safety standards it would from British Airlines.”
VVB Aviation, which provides aircraft, crews, maintenance, insurance and personnel training to airlines like Air Djibouti, is aiming to grow to around 10 aircraft within three years, according to Mr Dickinson, on the strength, at least in part, of its positive relationship with the Maltese authorities.
Air Djibouti’s senior strategic planning director, Dawit W. Michael Gebre-ab was also in Malta over the last few days, where he has held meetings with entities including the port and aviation authorities, Malta Enterprise, and Mcast.
“Like Malta, Djibouti is a small, dynamic country that likes to punch above its weight,” he said. “We are both small countries with limited resources but a strong maritime history that can benefit greatly from each other.”
Mr Gebre-ab said he had met with a number of Maltese companies that were interested in investing or providing services in Djibouti, highlighting its credentials as a gateway to the Middle East and North Africa, with a fully operational Free Trade Zone and a well-performing, logistics-based economy.