National airline to complement airports investments

TEMBO Benedict.

SO, THE long-awaited Zambia Airways is slowly taking shape following the signing of the agreement between the Industrial Development Corporation and Ethiopian Airlines (ET).Under the deal, ET will lease Zambia some aircraft.
It is gratifying that something is finally in the pipeline and Zambians can have hope that our green, orange, black and red colours will be back in the sky.
Currently, Zambia is probably the only country which has no national airline and this has not gone down well with the country’s aspirations.
As we aspire to be a prosperous middle-income country by 2030, it is important that the country makes strides in fulfilling that desire.
Pronouncements regarding the Vision 2030 and the Seventh National Development Plan should be translated into reality and the revival of the national airline should be one of the things citizens want to see realised.
Government has expressed its desire to diversify the economy, with agriculture and tourism being among potential game changers.
However, there is need to translate the potential into reality with affirmative action. For instance, it is Government’s desire to see tourism contribute significantly to gross domestic product.
While the country has unique tourism sites dotted all over the country, the challenge is how to get there.
For instance, there is an attempt to promote the northern circuit to market the tourism sites in Luapula, Muchinga and Northern provinces.
Government has on its part offered to open up the Samora Machel Airport in Mbala for civilian operations.
That is not enough because no airline is willing to go to Mbala while road infrastructure is in a deplorable state.
The coming on board of Zambia Airways is therefore a milestone as Government takes tourism development to the next level.
Besides, like economist Chibamba Kanyama says, the first impact of the revival of the national airline will go towards supporting the airports.
Mr Kanyama notes that there has been significant investment in airports in Livingstone, Lusaka and Ndola which need to depend on an anchor airline.
Mr Kanyama says if the agreement between ET and the IDC goes through as planned, there is an opportunity for jobs for pilots, air hostesses and technicians.
But Mr Kanyama feels that IDC should consult thoroughly if the country is to benefit from the value chain such as supplies to the airline like food, literature, ground handlers, fuel, etc.
“If we do not negotiate properly, the value chain will be beneficial in Ethiopia,” Mr Kabamba says.
For the airline to be a success, government officials should make it their first choice when heading to routes it will be operating.
Given that Government will be the biggest consumer, there will be need for discipline in the management of the airline for the country to reap the full benefits.
Government should come up with a policy of procuring tickets on cash basis or settling the fares around 30-90 days
Nobody wants to see the mounting of debt for the airline like was the case with Zambia Airways in liquidation.
IDC should also ensure that the country gets the best aircraft from the ET fleet to avoid maintenance costs.
Mr Kanyama feels that the planned launch in January is not the best time to launch as people will be thinking about schools opening, therefore, fees will be on their mind.
He says Government should not put itself under pressure to launch in January but do it during peak periods.
On profits, Mr Kanyama feels that Government should not put itself under pressure to start making profits almost immediately.
Mr Kanyama says ET, which has been in existence for a long time, has been making profits because of the routes it operates.
For now, he thinks that Government should concentrate on skills transfer and to begin to expand over time.
Otherwise, the revival is welcome because it is prestigious for a country to have its own airline.
The author is editorials editor at the Zambia Daily Mail.

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