fasty From Belgium, joined Oct 2010, 36 posts, RR: 0 Posted (3 years 10 months 6 days 16 hours ago) and read 18626 times:
There are many myths running around about how dangerous and difficult it is to fly domestic within the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Although the situation is still difficult (as remind us the numerous crashes regularly reported on international headlines), things have improved (at least for the major airlines) and given the dangers and lack of road and rail infrastructures, flying remains by far the safest way to travel around the country.
Taking pictures was extremely difficult as it is still prohibited in the whole country (including and especially enforced at airports) , and the widespread presence of armed militaries and cops was not there to encourage me to get noticed. That’s why I used a small, old and dirty cellphone camera (but you’ll see later that despite those precautions I couldn’t help being caught) and you will remark that several pics are of a very poor quality. Well I thought it was better than nothing so please bear with me.
It’s now a bit more than one year I moved to DRC and, due to my work, I had several occasions to fly between the two main cities : Kinshasa (the capital) and Lubumbashi (the second largest city where our head office is located)
Although being a relatively high-traffic route, options to link the two cities are rather limited, unless one wants to live a truly exotic and dreadfull adventure with a local Antonov or B707.
The choice is actually between Hewa Bora Airways , the flagship airline of DRC operating its newly acquired MD-82, or Congo Express : a subsidiary of SA Express operating a CRJ100.
I had initially opted for Congo Express, being convinced by the aircraft and crew coming directly from the much more “civilized” South Africa, but I learned a few days before that they had experienced serious trouble to operate in the latest days, being because of light load, aircraft issue or political preassure from the giant Hewa Bora, well no one could exactly tell around me.
So I finally went for Hewa Bora and here I was on a Saturday morning, ready to go back home after a few days of intensive work in the Capital City
Hewa Bora network, note the red cross on BRU and CDG, due to the airline being currently blacklisted
TO THE AIRPORT
Reaching Ndjili airport from the Gombe (downtown Kinshasa) is not an easy task. You will have to cross the “cité” (suburbs of Kinshasa), find your way through the giant traffic jams, avoid the mad local busses, handcarts, donkeys, kids and god only knows what else.
Today was however a lucky day, as we left around 10.15 and we finally entered the airport parking area at 11.15, just 1h15 before the scheduled flight departure
Leaving the Gombe behind a local bus
Along the “Boulevard Lumumba” with the Limete Tower in the distance
AT THE AIRPORT
After parking, me and my “protocole” (for those who wonder what/who is the “protocole” I strongly advise them to read my previous trip report), we walked to the domestic terminal.
N’djili airport is made of two terminals : one international and one domestic. Neither of them is in good condition but using the domestic one definitely gives you the best flavor of what would become an airport if you leave it unmaintained for 50 years.
From the parking lot to the terminal,
Domestic terminal entrance
The terminal itself is rather small with a “check-in area” which consists of 2 checkin desks and an old-style scale. After being checked, bags are dropped in a happy mess just behind the check-in agents.
Before I could check my luggage, I was requested to open it so that a security agent could make sure there was no forbidden item being stored in it. Then it was sealed with a sticker and I could proceed to check in. I was handed a carton boarding pass.
Boarding pass and baggage tag
While my “protocole” was checking me in, I sneaked a few shots of the interior of the terminal. As I said earlier I didn’t want to get noticed and I didn’t have any specific equipment, so images are terribly blurry. Sorry about this.
Hewa Bora airport office (still with the old logo)
No smoking sign, I wonder who is the lady whose photographs were pasted above the paper
After I was checked in, it was time to proceed to the gate. After showing my passport to the immigration officer (yes they check your documents even when leaving on a domestic flight), I head through security.
This consisted of a X-Ray machine which was apparently working (as they discovered the water bottle in my bag ) and a metal detector which was not working (I crossed it with all keys and things without a beep)
Just after I left the security check, I was approach by one of the policeman who asked me if I could help him to “buy one coke as he was thirsty”. After some hesitation I gave him 1000 congolese francs (approx 1 USD). I know this may be a bad behavior as it is encouraging corruption but the guy has been nice and smiling so I consider this as a “thanks and keep hope” gesture rather than as a bribe.
The gate area consisted in a set of chair rows, and a few magazines were on sale on a small stall. I took the chance to buy some of them (as it’s difficult to get them in Lubumbashi) and boarding was called only a few minutes later. We would be on time, which is always a great news to hear.
Just after getting out of the building a long queue had formed for a second handbags check which was performed this time by the company crew. When my turn came, they merely open one pocket of my bag, looked at my gentle white face, and let me proceed to the bus with a smile.
Airport bus with a nice ad from Vodacom, one of the local cellphone network providers.
The bus ride was no more than 3 minutes, as we just circled around an AF A330-200 to reach our MD-82.
Air France through the upper windows of the bus
After disembarking the bus, I reached the queue to, first provide the “Go Pass” (= proof of payment for the 10$ Departure Tax), then to have a lady check my boarding pass.
Lady checking boarding passes (note the nice colors of Hewa Bora uniform)
That lady somehow noticed I was taking pictures and forcefully (although in an amicable manner) reminded me it was forbidden and I could get in trouble if I wouldn’t stop). Of course I didn’t discuss and made my cellphone disappear until I would be seated inside the aircraft.
Boarding was done via the rear stairs, for who has ever boarded an MD82 this way, he will recognize the entrance is somehow spectacular.
Boarding through rear entrance (picture taken on the FBM-FIH leg)
The interior cabin was rather nice and classic with clothed blue seats in a 2-3 configuration. Load was approx 60%
I found out I had been assigned an exit row seat so I had plenty of legroom and I quickly made myself comfortable. (Funny to notice I was not given any safety briefing although my neighbor from next row ahead of me was)
View from my seat. I don’t think I would fly this B727 even if I would get paid millions.
Welcome announcements could be heard in French, English, Swahili and Lingala while the rest of the pax were gradually boarding.
Exit row legroom
Once boarding was completed, the crew proceed with a quick manual safety demonstration and soon we were heading to runway 06 for departure.
The takeoff was gentle as the runway is quite long at N’djili (it was apparently designed as an alternative landing site for NASA Space Shuttle !) and we were soon heading south-east for a 2:15 ride to Lubumbashi.
Safety Card for HBA’s MD-82
Some 30 minutes after takeoff, the meal service started, which consisted of a choice between cheese, tuna or salami sandwich and a cold drink.
Although rather basic, the service was handled with lots of smiles and I got an extra beer without even asking (it’s true that in Congo beers are usually served in huge 66cl bottles so I guess it was natural for the crew to offer 2x33cl can)
Tuna sandwich and a generous quantity of beer
Simba (meaning “lion” in Swahili) is the local beer in Lubumbashi and a big institution (one of the many heritages left by the Belgians)
After lunch, it was time for the ritual visit to the toilets and a few cabin shots.
When I opened the toilet’s door, a man was standing inside, I quickly shut it down. I guess he was not used to the system and was probably wondering why the hell the lights were off in the toilet
Bathroom was clean
Cabin shot from the rear
We finally started our descent into Lubumbashi and landed on time via runway 25 as usual.
A few minutes before landing
After a short taxi we parked just next to a Trans Air Congo Service Cargo DC-8
Disemblarking was via the rear door again and I was heading to the Malabar lounge where my protocol was already waiting for me in a few minutes’ walk.
All in all, once you get used to the big mess at Congolese airports and you know how to deal with the possible bribe requests, you will find flying here a rather relaxed and enjoyable experience.
Of course I can’t assess what’s going on for more underground companies flying to remote cities. When we drove from N’djili to downtown, we passed across N’dolo, the other Kinshasa airport, hosting many of the so-called “flying coffin” companies and, from the outside, the airport condition looked even more terrible than N’djili
The rule will be however to always make sure you have someone (the protocol) helping you on both departure and arrival airports, to guarantee you a hassle-free experience.
PlaneHunter From Germany, joined Mar 2006, 6945 posts, RR: 77
Reply 1, posted (3 years 10 months 6 days 16 hours ago) and read 18553 times:
fascinating report, really enjoyed reading about this exotic trip. Good to see you managed to take so many pictures. What would have happened if officers of any kind had caught you? Would they have been "satisfied" with money?
Quoting fasty (Thread starter): Simba (meaning “lion” in Swahili) is the local beer in Lubumbashi and a big institution (one of the many heritages left by the Belgians)
Widebodyroga From United States of America, joined Sep 2008, 613 posts, RR: 16
Reply 6, posted (3 years 10 months 5 days 11 hours ago) and read 17269 times:
What an extraordinary TR! Thank you so much for taking the risk of shooting these photos and for sharing them with us. To be honest I don't think I could handle very well the whole deal with the bribing and the "protocoles". Is all business (even outside of flying) like that in DRC?
Visit my aviation page: http://widebodyroga.weebly.com/
WhereToNext From United States of America, joined Jul 2010, 96 posts, RR: 0
Reply 7, posted (3 years 10 months 5 days 6 hours ago) and read 17104 times:
Magnificent trip report! It's not often that we get a look into the DRC, so thank you for that glimpse into a rare locale. Luckily that person that stopped you didn't make you erase all the pictures you had taken up until that point!
It is. I could tell right away it was, because of the interiors in Y Class. And if you look for that particular aircraft in the database, you get the confirmation it comes from American.
Quoting fasty (Thread starter): Boarding was done via the rear stairs, for who has ever boarded an MD82 this way, he will recognize the entrance is somehow spectacular.
I remember boarding and deplaning a 727 this way, back in the 80s when I used to fly BRU-NCE on Air France. At that time, there were no jetways in NCE, all passengers would walk on the tarmac when boarding and deplaning.
9W748Capt From United States of America, joined Feb 2008, 628 posts, RR: 1
Reply 9, posted (3 years 10 months 4 days 7 hours ago) and read 16737 times:
Have another question about the "protocole" - obviously they must have some kind of "in" with the airport/government staff that makes them worthwhile to use, but who exactly are they? Are they themselves government employees? That has to be such a strange experience. And have you heard about what happens if you give it a go without one? I remember abrelosojos saying there was no way his friend would even let him dare to go without one - must be pretty rough (and expensive) to go without!
okapi From France, joined Jun 2006, 222 posts, RR: 0
Reply 10, posted (3 years 10 months 3 days 16 hours ago) and read 16483 times:
Jambo Bwana! Such a great TR, the one I've been waiting for you to write. Félicitations! How much I envy you for those two cans of Simba. Funny they don't serve Tembo as well. You could find it along with Skol, decades ago on board Air Zaire...The good thing (or bad thing, depending on point of view) about the Congo is that things don't change very much. Ndjili was an awful place back in the 90's and it still is. Do you still use Protocole in Lubumbashi? And do you know if one can still go up the Limete Echangeur Tower? Thanks again for sharing!
Oh yes it is ! But usually as an expatriate, your employer is taking care of all those small annoying thing so that your life is, most of time easy, I would even say easier than in the western world (e.g. I never have to take care of collecting my luggage, protocole is handling everything for me)
Quoting WhereToNext (Reply 7): Luckily that person that stopped you didn't make you erase all the pictures you had taken up until that point!
Yes that would have been a real shame ! Having to delete everything after nearly completed the whole process ... I think I would just have faked
Quoting 9W748Capt (Reply 9): Have another question about the "protocole" - obviously they must have some kind of "in" with the airport/government staff that makes them worthwhile to use, but who exactly are they? Are they themselves government employees? That has to be such a strange experience. And have you heard about what happens if you give it a go without one? I remember abrelosojos saying there was no way his friend would even let him dare to go without one - must be pretty rough (and expensive) to go without!
Actually they are just people like you and me, except that they have created a business around this. They are just realizing "economies of scale" by providing regular global bribes to officials in the various areas (airlines, police, customs etc.). I was told it was extremely lucrative ... This is typical from Congo where lots of unique businesses are created due to rough corruption and meaningless rules.
It is however possible to go without one. A friend of mine actually did this as she was connecting at FIH where no protocol was waiting for her. It was painful, her luggage got checked 8 times (according to her) but she finally made it and was allowed to continue to BRU on SN. She didn't pay an extra dollar.
Quoting okapi (Reply 10): Jambo Bwana! Such a great TR, the one I've been waiting for you to write. Félicitations! How much I envy you for those two cans of Simba. Funny they don't serve Tembo as well. You could find it along with Skol, decades ago on board Air Zaire...The good thing (or bad thing, depending on point of view) about the Congo is that things don't change very much. Ndjili was an awful place back in the 90's and it still is. Do you still use Protocole in Lubumbashi? And do you know if one can still go up the Limete Echangeur Tower? Thanks again for sharing!
Hi Okapi, thanks !
So you had the chance to fly Air Zaire ? That was certainly very cool ! I can't imagine what would the passengers look like after a few 50cl bottles of Tembo !!
In Lubumbashi, I'm using the services of a VIP lounge called Malabar which is handling all the protocol thing while you have a drink in their lounge.
As for the Limete tower, I have no idea. I will ask some colleagues next time I go to Kin.
Quoting flightsimboy (Reply 11): That sign in the terminal with the woman's photos was scary! (Did she go missing while in the terminal)
Mmmh I prefer not to think about this ... But there was nothing written around the pictures. Maybe it is some religious thing (maybe a way for people to remember an airport colleague who died or .... ?) Really I've no idea.
MEA-707 From Netherlands, joined Nov 1999, 4360 posts, RR: 35
Reply 16, posted (3 years 9 months 1 week 5 days 9 hours ago) and read 14209 times:
I'd really want to visit DR Congo one day, to fly on a Nord 262 and some other interesting airliners there. What's your opinion, is it possible, reasonably safe? How do I hire these protocol guys?
I am a bit experienced and travelled inside Nigeria on my own for instance.
nobody has ever died from hard work, but why take the risk?
eastafspot From France, joined Jan 2008, 858 posts, RR: 20
Reply 17, posted (3 years 9 months 1 week 1 day 15 hours ago) and read 13873 times:
I was really looking forward this report, and as expected it entertained and informed me very well about, my "neighbour" country. You took some risks and Merci beaucoup Thomas, le jeu en valait la chandelle.
Have you been collecting your passport too in Kinshasa?
Quoting fasty (Thread starter): as remind us the numerous crashes regularly reported on international headlines
the last one was roughly a month ago, a Let 410 near Bukavu
- Cameras can, obviously, be bought on different shops, how do Congolese use them then?
- Is the Hewa Bora 767 still rostered on the FIH-FBM-JNB route, if yes have you ever flown this bird in domestic (such a cool experience!!!)
and off topic:
- how is the project of Luano city right now?
East African Spotter
Fly with Air Burundi, Air Tanzania, Air Uganda, Kenya Airways and Rwandair...Jumuiya ya Afrika mashariki
fasty From Belgium, joined Oct 2010, 36 posts, RR: 0
Reply 18, posted (3 years 8 months 3 weeks 3 days 17 hours ago) and read 13236 times:
Quoting abrelosojos (Reply 15): PS: Have they fixed the Lubumbashi airport runway? Or, is that "scam" still continuing?
You bet ? Actually they miraculously managed to complete approx 1/3 of the runway. So now everytime you land or take off you can hear a nice "BOOM" when you leave the freshly made part for the old-style part.
If they keep the same pace, runway could be completed by 2016 ...
Quoting MEA-707 (Reply 16): I'd really want to visit DR Congo one day, to fly on a Nord 262 and some other interesting airliners there. What's your opinion, is it possible, reasonably safe? How do I hire these protocol guys?
RD Congo is certainly one of the best places to fly old airliners, most of them being Antonov and DC. Hiring protocol is also very easy. Even if you don't have one, you can start looking for one at the airport. But keep cool and take your time to chosse the most honest looking one. As for safety I can't comment as I never dared to fly those birds ...
Hi East African Spotter !
Quoting eastafspot (Reply 17): I was really looking forward this report, and as expected it entertained and informed me very well about, my "neighbour" country. You took some risks and Merci beaucoup Thomas, le jeu en valait la chandelle.
I was actually looking forward your comment
Quoting eastafspot (Reply 17): the last one was roughly a month ago, a Let 410 near Bukavu
More recently a Cargo An-12 crashed just before landing in Brazzaville. It was apparently hosting passengers as well.
Quoting eastafspot (Reply 17): - Cameras can, obviously, be bought on different shops, how do Congolese use them then?
They use it indoor mainly. Mentalities are slowly evolving and there are places (like parks or restaurants) where it is more and more common to see pictures being taken. I feel that in 10 years, if nothing dramatic happens, taking picture will be much more relax in DRC
Quoting eastafspot (Reply 17): - Is the Hewa Bora 767 still rostered on the FIH-FBM-JNB route, if yes have you ever flown this bird in domestic (such a cool experience!!!)
I think it's currently used to operate a direct FIH-JNB flight.
And yes I flew it a few times last year on the FBM-FIH route. Nothing sepcial to notice, except a nearly 100% load on each of my travels.
rvxkaz From Singapore, joined Apr 2011, 195 posts, RR: 2
Reply 19, posted (3 years 8 months 1 week 4 days 20 hours ago) and read 12714 times:
I chanced upon your report and I must say its really a really extraordinary read with a different perspective!
I'm amused that the crew were so generous with offering a second can, something you don't quite get elsewhere. Looking at your wonderful inflight pictures, I guess once you're onboard the aircraft, the laws of the land on photography restrictions is not strictly enforced?
Though the meal just comprises of a sandwich, I like how they package it so presentably, not quite what I expect from an African carrier on a domestic route.
Congo sounds like a really restrictive place (even by Singapore standards ) and again, really interesting perspective and I really enjoyed reading your insight of things over there.
Thanks for the delightful read.
They say that I'm a dreamer. But I'd only Dreamt Skyward.