The embattled national airline ÔÇô Air Botswana; is reportedly bankrupt and has been running at a loss for a while. Appearing before the Public Accounts Committee, acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Communications, Dr Ompone Kereteletswe admitted that the airline is faced with financial challenges and is running short of adequate fleet to fly all its routes.
Kereteletswe confirmed to the committee that some of the aeroplanes have been grounded for a number of years as they are not serviceable.
Although the acting PS admitted that the airline has been running at a loss for some time, he emphasised the importance of having strategic aligns with other airlines. He added that the company has introduced new proper reengineering strategies including a proper I.T system as well as human resource within the company.
At the same time Kereteletswe says the frequent management changes at the Air Botswana is affecting the overall performance of the national airline.
“Frequent changes at management level are affecting the performance and it takes long to fill the key vacant positions,” he stated.
However as part of its strategic initiatives, Dr Kereteletswe confirmed that the airline has engaged OEMs with the hope to determine suitable fleet composition for its route network. Amongst other things, he said they are also working on reorganising or right-sizing the corporation and enhancing its ICT infrastructure, which when completed will place the airline on a better commercial footing.
“We are looking critically at re-fleeting Air Botswana and at the moment the hiring of flights to stand in for the non-functioning aircrafts is proving to be very costly,” said Dr Kereteletswe.
PAC member MP Guma Moyo expressed concern why the national airline does not publicly advertise expression of interests when procuring fleet as well as when disposing it. He further quizzed the PS why the hired aircrafts do come with their crew from South Africa instead of using the local Air Botswana qualified crew.
“The strategy in place at Air Botswana cannot turn around the business because it does not increase the volumes. Is it an issue of re-fleeting or is it an operational issue? You are focusing too much on passengers,” remarked Moyo.
Another PAC Member Biggie Butale observed that the national airline has been procuring the wrong fleet for the wrong reasons for the benefit of a few people. Kereteletswe responded by saying, “We are yet to receive feedback from the board of directors on what direction to take and as well as the consultancy firmed engaged at Air Botswana. Currently the board is still new and we believe it is competent.”
PAC member MP Ndaba Gaolatlhe expressed concern that an international expert in the aviation industry was rejected after expressing interest in being part the national airline board of directors.
“Our airports locally do not have self sustaining business models as it is by international standards. There are no businesses or shop outlets contained within the airports as it is the case across the borders,” said Gaolatlhe.
However despite the numerous challenges being faced by the national airline, Kereteletswe reiterated that Air Botswana continues to improve utilisation of its assets, mainly aircraft, with a view to restoring loyalty of its customers and growing its passenger base.
“The airline has a new board of directors appointed in accordance with the provisions of the Air Botswana Act, to provide strategic guidance and direction,” he concluded.