The air movement of passengers, baggage, freight and mail is all part of a chain whose smooth running depends on an intricate network of professional skills. Following its early days of involvement nearly seventy years ago, Rogers is today a leading player in the commercial aviation business both in Mauritius and in the region.
photos : rogers image bank | new mauritius hotels air mauritius | general aviation (mauritius) ltd
Growing up to be a pilot or flight attendant is the stuff of childhood dreams. Some aviation jobs have greater visibility because of the direct contact between the travelling public and those who perform them, such as travel agents, check-in counter and boarding staff, and flight personnel. But they are only part of an overall operation that is much more complex than it appears. From operational and maintenance staff to sales, IT and back-office people, hundreds of other skilled individuals are busy keeping everything going.
Rogers’ involvement in aviation reads like a great adventure story. It all started in 1945. As the sector took off internationally, the Maingard brothers, René and Amédée, were about to play a crucial role in its development in Mauritius. René, who was then 28, had served as a pilot in the Royal Air Force, whilst his younger brother had been a Mauritian secret agent in the Special Operations Executive in France.
They were the first to realise what a crucial contribution the sector could bring to the opening up of an island state like Mauritius and to its economic development. Using their overseas contacts, early in 1945 they secured the contract to represent the French airline, Réseau des lignes aériennes françaises, which would become part of Air France a few months later following the nationalisation of the French civil aviation industry.
“At that time, some airlines made refuelling stops in Mauritius and the flight crews and planes needed looking after. Rogers positioned itself to offer such services. One thing led to another and Rogers built up a reputation in the sector, so that each time a new airline started landing here,
we were the obvious representative,” explains Alexandre Fayd’herbe, Rogers Aviation’s current CEO (see also the interview with him on page 32).
Business grew rapidly and three years later Amédée Maingard was given the task of creating an aviation department within Rogers. He opened an agency in Port Louis and, while he was at it, set up a handling service at the airport. In 1949, South African Airways (SAA) joined the list of those represented by Rogers.
“The business partnership has been dynamic and never complacent. Rogers Aviation and SAA have come a long way together. Captains have changed on both sides during all these years, but sound business ethics and a healthy spirit of partnership have prevailed throughout,” says Jean-Philippe de Ravel, the South African airline’s manager for the Indian Ocean islands. Having devoted himself to working for SAA for 40 years and occupied various important posts in Mauritius, Hong Kong and France, he will be retiring in September.
Amédée Maingard was a visionary, ahead of his time and confident in Mauritius’ tourism potential. By the early 1950s, the close relationship between the tourism and aviation sectors had become clear to him. A period house in Curepipe was turned into the Park Hotel, indeed the first hotel in Mauritius, in 1952. It was used by passengers and crews during stop-offs in Mauritius. Two years later, he set up Mauritius Hotels, which is today the country’s largest hotel group. Rogers still has a 16.7% stakeholding in New Mauritius Hotels, which operates under the Beachcomber Hotels brand name.
In 1953, he then set up the Mauritius Travel & Tourist Bureau (MTTB) to promote the destination, as well as Mautourco, an agency providing services for incoming tourists. As Jacques de Spéville, Managing Director of the company until 2010, recalls, “When I arrived at Mautourco in 1984, it was a very different kind of business to today’s. It was a very small agency, with some 4,000 to 5,000 customers a year. Much of its income was from our car rental business, our Hertz franchise. In 1999, after the merger of MTTB and Mautourco, we became the largest incoming travel agency handling more than 100,000 customers a year. The business grew even further and, at its height, the number was at least 150,000.”
Amédée Maingard also took up the challenge of regional expansion, joining with France Giraud in 1953 to found Transcontinents, the first travel agency and tour operator in Madagascar (see page 50). Just over a decade later, as Independence approached, he played a major role in the setting up of the national airline, Air Mauritius, a company he chaired until his death in 1981.
Following in his footsteps, Rogers Aviation has positioned itself today in the forefront of commercial aviation in Mauritius. The sector is organised into two parts, Aviation Services and Travel Services, with almost 500 staff operating in eight territories in the Indian Ocean region and Africa – Kenya, Madagascar, Mayotte, Mozambique, Reunion Island, South Africa, the Comoros and Mauritius.
The activities of Aviation Services include providing General Sales Agent (GSA) services to some fifteen airlines, ground handling services and representing Sabre’s Global Distribution System (GDS). Travel Services operates its network of travel agencies under the BlueSky brand name.
Rogers Aviation is also responsible for looking after the Group’s interests in Transcontinents in Madagascar, as well as the destination management companies, Mautourco and White Sand Tours, in Mauritius. It likewise operates a fleet of tourist boats, as well as a contact centre, BlueConnect, a joint venture with Air France’s subsidiary, BlueLink. It has also built up long-term partnerships with such international names as American Express Travel Services, Cosmos & Globus and SOTC.
The business culture in Rogers Aviation encourages innovation and excellence, a sustained desire to provide customer and partner satisfaction and a relationship built on trust, and the availability of total solutions for business and leisure travellers. In the words of Alexandre Fayd’herbe, “We have built up strong professional capacities, with staff who have acquired considerable experience in freight, ticketing and airport services.”
Rogers Aviation can also rely on highly-skilled sales and marketing specialists both in the travel agency and GSA lines of business, he adds. “Our teams are always on the ground, close to their clients, and available at any time of the day or night to provide them with solutions.”
There are other important links in the aviation chain, such as on-board catering. Plaisance Catering has been operating in the sector since the 1960s. “As an example, the number of airline meals we supply jumped from 746,000 annually in 1996 to 3 million in 2010. At one time, we were the only such service provider, but the arrival of a new one – who now holds the on-board catering contract for Air Mauritius, which represented about half of our production – has had an impact on our sales volume,” the former General Manager, Frantz Merven, tells us.
As the sector has developed, in recent years new sectors have appeared. Veiling, an airline leasing company, began operating in 2002. Based in Mauritius, with offices in London, it currently has a fleet of 13 aircraft, essentially wide-bodied ones. According to its Managing Director, Nirvan Veerasamy, “Airlines are making increasing use of leases for a variety of reasons. In the early 1980s, it was customary for airlines to purchase most of their aircraft. The emergence of large leasing companies provided them with the flexibility to expand their fleets without having the need to finance such aircraft or take the residual value at the end of an aircraft’s lifespan.”
A former MD of Air Mauritius, he is now also the Executive Director of General Aviation (Mauritius) Ltd, which operates the YU Lounge, the first private lounge at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport. It provides an upmarket clientele with a whole range of terminal services, including transfers, looking after private jets and their crews, and meeting rooms. As he confides, “Since its inception, the YU Lounge has welcomed a number of important guests of businesses in Mauritius who have used the YU Lounge to turn what is generally wasted time into very productive meetings.”
Global mobility has gone on growing ever since the early days of commercial aviation and the sector has lost nothing of its urge to progress further. Virgin Galactic, a company belonging to the British billionaire, Richard Branson, is already selling suborbital flights. There is little doubt that the constant evolution of the industry will see the continued emergence of new professional activities in the aviation sector in the future.