The national airline, Air Botswana continues to pull ‘stunt’ after another despite government’s numerous attempts to help the ailing airline through cash injections and engagement of consultants.
On Wednesday, a sizeable number of Air Botswana passengers at various airports across the country were left feeling rattled after the national airline flights delayed and later cancelled some of its flights. Atleast eight flights which entail BP 036, BP224, BP209, BP331, BP232, BP231, BP330 and BP033 were either delayed or cancelled.
Sunday Standard has been informed that on Friday, Air Botswana General Manager Ben Dahwa was forced to write an apology letter to various industry partners as well as the affected customers explaining that the matter was caused by the need to uphold to safety commitments.
“Operations were significantly disrupted due to technical problems and unfavourable weather conditions”, reads a statement delivered by Ben Dahwa.
Although Air Botswana general manager is believed to have apologised to the affected passengers, it is has emerged that the airline’s ageing fleet and maintenance problems have impacted aircraft availability to support the schedule as published.
The Air Botswana BP033 flight which was scheduled to depart Maun at 1745 hours on Wednesday was delayed atleast four times before it was later cancelled an hour after midnight on Thursday. The flight was scheduled to carry passengers including delegates from the just ended bi-annual BOCCIM national business conference which was held in Maun.
The Airline has been posting crippling losses over the last few years as the national airliner battled with a myriad of problems including a sub-standard fleet, poor customer service, delayed flights and failure to meet international aviation standards.
The government owned company has faced these series of challenges following its failed privatisation in 2004 and 2008. In addition to engaging consultants recently, government has also injected large amounts of money into the national airliner to keep it flying the skies.
The recent capital injection by the government came about after another mystery of operating without a permanent General Manager for a long period.
The company has never been stable since the departure of Joshua Galeforolwe as all the past substantive General Managers appointed jumped ship before the end of their contracts. Upon the departure of Galeforolwe, the then Finance Manager, Cornwell Muleya was appointed on an acting basis. This was shortly before the appointment of Willie Mokgatle who later resigned and joined Shell Oil International.
Other subsequent appointees include Beatrice Selotlegeng, who was also appointed on an acting basis before she paved way for Lance Brogden. It was after Brogden left Air Botswana that the then Finance Manager Mphi Tlhomelang and Maemo Bantsi (Head of Human Resources) were appointed (on acting capacities).
The Air Botswana Board was later to appoint a British national Mike Higgins. Higgins to everyone’s surprise tendered his resignation within three months of his appointment and was replaced with Reiling.
But just under two years at helm, Reiling, who was also the first female head of the airline in 2011, dropped a bombshell; she announced that she would be leaving the ailing national airline by March 2013. Her move was seen as a major blow to Air Botswana since upon her arrival at Air Botswana, she had been driving a major strategic plan of recovery for the struggling national airline.
It was under the leadership of Reiling that Air Botswana was readmitted into the International Air Transport Association (IATA) as a full member after finally passing the exacting IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) audit. Air Botswana had been failing the audit since 2007.
The Zimbabwean born pilot also helped Air Botswana’s financial recovery, reducing its net losses which had been accumulated over many years.
With Air Botswana enjoying its fair share of bad publicity, Reiling was then head-hunted by IATA to take up a very senior position in Johannesburg, South Africa. She ultimately left the airline in March last year.
Despite the recent incident, Air Botswana claims that its performance has been impressive in the past few months. Chairman of the Board of Directors, Joe Motse says their performance record has consistently been above 85 percent in the past few months, with an all time high of 92 percent recorded in July this year.
“We have optimised our operations and have also recently expanded our cargo facilities and handling space, positioning ourselves well in anticipation of increased cargo business through Sir Seretse Khama International Airport,” he added.
He said that the new cargo facility is also well equipped to handle all types of cargo from perishables to valuables. He added that they currently operate a dedicated cargo freighter on their Johannesburg ÔÇô Gaborone route two times a week.
“This means that our customers can now send more volumes since our commercial aircrafts do not have capacity for large volumes as they also carry passengers,” Motse said.
Among other important issues, Motse said that early this year consultants were appointed to help improve performance of the airliner and chart the way forward for the next five years. He said that the recommendations made by the consultants will inform a whole range of initiatives to drive revenues, manage and contain costs, increase efficiencies and productivity as well as appropriate resources in all business areas to optimise their business revenues.
“In crafting the recommendations, the following key strategic areas have been considered; Route network and upgrade, Fleet upgrade, review of internal process and procedures, Use of technology to enhance delivery and simplicity and improving our human resource and processes,” he said.
He said it is now the task of the newly appointed cabinet to review and consider the revised business strategy. In addition he said that once the strategy has been endorsed, it shall become the road map to guide management going forward.
Touching on the opening of the revamped Francistown office, he said such is a testament to the airline’s commitment to the city of Francistown.
“It also indicates our intent to better serve the people that have continued to fly with us over the years and the ones that are discovering the thrill of flying with us for the first time. Our intention is clear. We want to be better for you,” he said.
Motse said that over the years, the Francistown market has grown tremendously. He said that it is against such backdrop that Air Botswana continues to fly not only between Gaborone and Francistown, but Johannesburg and Francistown. He said it is largely due to the demand in the mining and the retail sector.
“The two routes especially Francistown ÔÇô Gaborone, include leisure travellers. Our presence at Galo mall in Francistown now means that you can do your shopping at Francistown’s trendiest mall and when done, stop by the Air Botswana office to make your flight booking,” he said.