Bruce Dickinson: The rock star helping an African airline fly

Bruce Dickinson on stage with Iron Maiden Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Bruce Dickinson enjoys two very different careers

For the world's biggest rock bands the small East African nation of Djibouti doesn't usually appear on their itineraries.

Nestled between Somalia and Eritrea at the entrance to the Red Sea, the hot and arid country seldom features on lists of global tour dates.

Yet there is one multimillionaire rock star who recently flew into town - Bruce Dickinson, the lead singer of heavy metal elder statesmen Iron Maiden.

Instead of performing a concert the 56-year-old was in Djibouti because of his other job - as owner of an airline business.

A qualified pilot, Mr Dickinson has spent the past 16 years juggling his commitments on stage and in the recording studio, with a second career flying commercial planes; in 2012 he set up a company called Cardiff Aviation.

Based in south Wales, the business provides maintenance, training and operational support to a host of airlines.

The visit to Djibouti saw Mr Dickinson sign an agreement with the country's government to help re-launch the nation's former flag carrier - Air Djibouti.

The airline went into liquidation back in 2002 after years of mismanagement and overstaffing.

Image caption The former Air Djibouti was liquidated in 2002

Air Djibouti is now set to take to the skies again later this year, with Cardiff Aviation sourcing the aircraft and helping to run the operation.

Mr Dickinson says he hopes that the re-launched carrier will help increase awareness of the African nation.

"Djibouti is an amazing country, but many people do not know about it," he says.

"A national airline has an ambassadorial role wherever it flies from."

'Government criticism'

The relaunch of Air Djibouti comes as the country's economy is continuing to enjoy significant investment from China.

Chinese firms are spending $12bn (£7.6bn) to build no less than six new ports in the country, a railway line to land-locked neighbour Ethiopia, and two new airports. The Chinese government is also said to be planning to build a military base in Djibouti.

Image caption The deal will see Cardiff Aviation help run the new Air Djibouti

A former French colony, the country is already also home to large French and US military facilities.

The overseas interest in Djibouti is thanks in no small part to its strategic location in the Horn of Africa, at the entrance to the Red Sea, one of the world's busiest shipping lines.

The development of new airports is obviously particularly good news for Air Djibouti, especially because commercial flights in and out of the country currently have to use a cramped airport shared with the US military.

Iron Maiden facts

Image copyright Getty Images
  • The band was formed in London in 1975
  • Bruce Dickinson didn't join the group until 1981 when he replaced previous vocalist Paul Di'Anno
  • Iron Maiden have sold more than 85 million records
  • Their best-known songs include Run To The Hills and Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter
  • Bruce Dickinson left the band in 1993 and then rejoined in 1999
  • When on tour he often flies the band's plane

It is also hoped that Air Djibouti will benefit from wider efforts by the government to position the country, which has a population of only 810,000, as a low tax, international trade centre to rival Dubai.

Mr Dickinson, whose trip to Djibouti was part of a trade visit organised by the British Embassy in Ethiopia, says: "The aviation sector is crucial [for Djibouti], it is like imagining Dubai without Emirates. So if they want Djibouti to become an international trade hub it needs a [thriving] national airline."

The Djibouti government is however, not without its critics.

Despite a stable political system, and holding elections, politics has long been dominated by the ruling People's Rally for Progress party of President Ismael Omar Guelleh.

Image copyright Rex Features
Image caption Bruce Dickinson learned to fly back in the 1990s

This has led to opposition parties both boycotting some elections and questioning the results of other polls.

The government's critics have also criticised its economic plans.

One Djiboutian journalist, who asked not to be named, says: "The government only cares about how to collect the country's wealth.

Image caption The foreign investment has boosted Djibouti's economy

"They do not care about freedom of expression, human rights, justice and equal opportunities of people."

Mohamed Ali Hassan, the Djibouti Foreign Ministry's Secretary General, counters that criticism of the government is misplaced.

"The Western community expects Djibouti to be the same as Europe, but that is not possible," he says.

"We are willing to listen to criticism, although we don't hear any proposals."

In specific regards to the Chinese investment, he adds: "We hear criticism of the Chinese, but they are doing business everywhere, and not just with us."

Infant industry

At the relaunched Air Djibouti, its senior director of strategic planning, Dawit Gebre-ab, says the carrier wants to compete with the likes of Turkish Airlines, Emirates and Qatar Airways, who he says currently dominate international flights to and from the country.

"Turkish Airlines is already flying here every day from Istanbul," he says. "That should be our market, they are our passengers."

Djibouti facts

  • A former French colony, it gained independence in 1977
  • Has a population of just 810,000
  • The capital city has the same name as the country. The word "city" is often added in lower case to avoid confusion
  • The official languages are French and Arabic
  • The fifth poorest African country by GDP

Mr Gebre-ab adds that Air Djibouti also plans to provider cheap direct flights to cities such as Paris and London, and to destinations in Africa.

"African aviation is still in its infancy," adds Mr Gebre-ab. "So there is big room for growth.

"The success of the big African airlines such as Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airways is an inspiration for us, and we hope to one day achieve their status."

Air Djibouti also aims to start services to Dubai and Delhi.

Mr Dickinson says: "Our aim is to let Air Djibouti represent the country in the best way possible."

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