Our own national airline – make or break

EVANS Ngoma.

IN A conversation with my nine-year-old son Zwelithini Kazonga Ngoma, a Grade Four pupil at Lusaka’s Lume Primary School, he posed a question that I feel feeds into the national discourse and can be of great value to you and me.
“National airline, your view dad?” This question got me cranking and I had to pick up the phone to solicit views from peers both locally and regionally.
I did not answer him immediately but I gave him my commitment to do so in due course for the benefit of the country.
It is my hope that our youths ask pertinent questions and, beyond that, take initiatives to research and collaborate with leaders in our society.
For the benefit of all, we ought to reduce complexity to simplicity. Therefore, the hope and intent is to respond to the question in a way that makes sure that the issues are grasped across the length and breadth of the country.
One thing for sure is that a national airline promotes a country’s brand. It gets to be known and easy to sell. National airlines are ambassadors as they represent the country’s values, add to the growth of its socio-economic status and, more importantly, national pride just like our Zambia’s national football team “Chipolopolo”.
So we need it. National airlines support a key sector in the economy, “tourism”. Its existence is thus of particular importance in the bigger scheme of things.
Beyond the need for its operationalisation lies, in my view, the biggest challenge – sustainability. Airline businesses are capital and technology – intensive, which are a huge barrier to entry. They need proper business modelling that must be in sync with the national vision and must be supported by all stakeholders.
What have been the lessons from the demise of Zambia Airways? Passenger traffic is key for survival and the country’s economic performance reflects the potential or survival chances. A lot has been said about administrative bungles that led to the failure. It would be amiss if we do not get first-hand information from players at the time. This, we hope, could be properly tackled in our next edition, where we then speak with experts specifically from Zambia Airways.
What have been the lessons from the region and internationally?
Internationally, we have seen or heard about Qatar Airways, which has proven to be a success. What did they do right? This is what we need to learn from.
In the region, we have Ethiopian Airways. Despite a huge setback with crashing of the Boeing 737 Max that killed all the 157 on board, it has done fairly well and we must learn from it.
Through public -private partnerships (PPP), we can explore ways of doing country visits so that we learn and get our act right. This is a necessity.
In South Africa, despite many news headlines about South African Airways (SAA) running losses and draining the fiscus through bailouts, the idea of letting it go has never come to fruition all in the knowledge of strategic value a national airline has to a country.
There are many other examples we can explore and the underlying view is that we need to learn from our experiences, learn from the region, and when all is said and done, let’s have our viable national airline that helps promote the brand ‘Zambia’ and the tourism sector.
Let us do all we can for the successful re-launch of our national airline. It is good that discussions are ongoing, but let us use lessons. Let’s have our own airline which Government must allow to run as a business.
It is our national airline, it must be supported and run efficiently. Reduce bungling and interference. To Zwelithini, I hope by bringing in regional examples, I have made you understand a view that could be of national value.
The author is founder of Buyzed Campaign.

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