As government resuscitates its plan to privatise the national airline, Air Botswana, at least 17 companies have shown interest to partner with the loss- making entity.
In February 2017, government published an Expression of Interest notice calling on private companies to submit proposals on best models to operate the airline.
On Thursday, the minister overseeing Air Botswana, Kitso Mokaila, told reporters in Gaborone that by deadline day, a record number of 17 firms had expressed their interest to take over Air Botswana.
Mokaila could not be drawn into discussing the names of the firms that are said to have met the February 28, 2017 deadline, but said the next step would be evaluation of all the proposals made to determine the best model.
The International Air Transportation Association (IATA) is said to have been roped in to help select the best proposal.
Although information relating to the names of the 17 firms remains scarce, more international players are said to have expressed interest.
Still on Thursday, Michael Hoevel, Managing Partner of Germany’s InAvia, was quoted confirming that the company had submitted Expression of Interest for Air Botswana.
“We believe Botswana has an as yet unrealised potential for travellers into the country, both on business and leisure. Air Botswana is a prime ambassador of the country, but has not yet lived up to the full potential of this role. We intend to change this and use the Air Botswana brand to attract traffic from Europe and key points in Asia and the Middle East.
“Continuing to limiting Air Botswana to a regional carrier, possibly even under a different brand, will not be to the benefit of the Republic of Botswana, and may reduce the national airline to a provider of aircraft and crew to other carriers.” Hoevel said.
Another international player that is said to have shown interest is South Africa’s Comair. Comair operates British Airways in southern Africa alongside its no-frills brand Kulula.com.
Its Chief Executive Erik Venter has confirmed in mid February that his company wants equity in the national airline.
Sunday Standard has been informed that already Comair has set aside R1 billion for acquisitions and other projects which could be used to buy equity in Air Botswana.
Although previous offers from Comair, South Africa’s Airlink and Air Mauritius have fallen through, AB reports that it has since halved its operating losses to P83 million in the 2016 fiscal year ÔÇô a development that has triggered some interest from the likes of Comair.
The airline’s financial losses over the years, blamed largely on ageing fleet as well as a large workforce have prompted a five-year turnaround strategy that includes cutting costs and cancelling unprofitable routes.
In 2016, the airline discontinued routes to Harare and Lusaka from Gaborone as part of the cost-cutting measures.
In November 2016 Mokaila told Parliament that prior to its dissolution, the former Air Botswana board had approved the 2015-2020 strategic plan aimed at turning around the airline by 2020.
According to Mokaila, the plan entailed organisational restructuring at an estimated cost of P30 million, improved information technology systems (P30 million), as well as re-fleeting.
“The target was to reduce staff to 350. A target of 116 redundancies was set, excluding crew. At that time, there were 40 pilots and 36 cabin attendants for a fleet of four aircrafts ÔÇô ideally 16 pilots and 16 cabin attendants could suffice for this aircraft fleet,” Mokaila said.