The Government is expected to embark on a full-swing of airways liberations plan that will see at least four more new airlines battling for domestic and international routes that might push the ailing Air Botswana to the brink.
The move comes after South African AirwaysÔÇöthe continent’s biggest airliner with a business class ÔÇöstarted its Gaborone – Johannesburg route a fortnight ago when its Airbus 319-100 with a 120 seating capacity flew into Botswana.
The SAA airbus gives customers an international experience as loyal customers with platinum card are given fast track check in at Johannesburg’s Oliver Tambo Airport.
Transport Minister, Johnnie Swartz, confirmed to Sunday Standard that the intention is to “fast track the liberalization of domestic airlines” to ensure that they meet the set standard within a reasonable time.
The move comes at a time when Air Botswana has bolted out of AITA arrangement, the international airline association that oversees the industry’s standards. Air Botswana was given a stack choiceÔÇöeither to bolt out because it was not meeting the industry’s safety standard or be kicked out, he said.
“When AITA came to do their audit, they found out some gaps regarding safety standards and they asked them to choose between being kicked out and opting out. It was easier to opt out because the procedure of being accepted again would not be that laborious,” Swartz said.
He Added: “ We hope that by August they would be coming here to do some audit which we think they would pass.
The embodiment is given weight by the fact that the airline has got some new planes, but the big issue is whether they will meet the challenge that is posed by the opposition on the extreme front.
So far, SAA and South African Express Airways are well positioned. SAA has the Gaborone-Johannesburg route while South African Express Airways will add to the schedule the Johannesburg-Maun on top of some of the lucrative routes outside Cape Town.
Air Botswana’s problems are being complicated by the fact that at the moment they do not have a substantive Chief Executive Officer, it is a troubled airline that is highly unreliable and notorious for mechanical problems and for having failed the AITA test.
The move is likely to see the airline being attacked from a number of fronts including the domestic and the international wings.
Analysts said Friday that it is up to Air Botswana to prove to the market that it can effectively compete or face the risk of sinking.
“This world will be all about those who have the muscle to compete. That is the only opportunity that they have or they will have to fold up,” one analyst said.
He added: “They will have to show that they can operate competitively in the new environment and, if they do, the tourism sector and the broader economy will benefit. For them to do that they must have a strategy not just because they are a national airline,” he pointed out.
So far, the new entrants have added some value in terms of pricing and service to the customers– a move that has made flying cheaper to most of the holiday-makers out of Botswana .
The competition is likely to result in a situation where Botswana issues four new licenses while South Africa does the same number. That will bring the total number competing for Botswana skies to about ten.
However, Air Botswana’s story is being made worse by the fact that IDI consultancy wants at least P 57 million per annum for a period of three years.
This is against the background that during its good times under Joshua Galeforolwe, it was making a profit of P 10 million, but those days are long gone.