Sunday, November 28, 2021

Air Botswana signs “solutions” deal amid operational challenges

BY BONNIE MODIAKGOTLA

The troubled national airline carrier, Air Botswana, has signed a pool agreement with one of its suppliers, Embraer, in a deal in which the carrier will receive full repair coverage for components and parts as well as unlimited access to large stock of components from Embraer, following disruption to Air Botswana’s operations, which includes a jet from Embraer.

“We are delighted to serve Air Botswana with a product that will provide streamlined solutions for its E170. Our mission at Embraer is to ensure customer satisfaction, which results in creating a competitive portfolio that offers the highest standards on the market,” said Johann Bordais, President and CEO, Embraer Services & Support, in a statement released Wednesday.

According to the statement, the components solution program is part of a suite of services that Embraer offers to support the growing fleet of Embraer aircraft worldwide through TechCare – the new Embraer platform that assembles the entire portfolio of products and solutions to deliver the best experience and services and support.

Air Botswana has been expanding its fleet since 2018 after it purchased two ATR72-600 that were delivered same year. Earlier this year, the state-owned carrier received the 70-seater Embraer E170 jet, with another also booked for delivery this year. Previously, Air Botswana was operating three ATR 42-500s and one ATR 72-500.

Reacting to the recent maintenance deal between Air Botswana and Embraer, Agnes Khunwana, the general manager of Botswana’s state owned carrier said: “Air Botswana looks forward to our partnership with Embraer. Increasing the availability of spare parts for our aircraft will help our daily operations and we are excited about efficient solutions.”

Khunwana’s remarks have been on the backdrop of operational challenges at Air Botswana, which have been foreshadowing the carrier’s turnaround strategy. The airline’s splurge on new aircrafts was expected to boost the carrier’s attractiveness to investors. The loss making Air Botswana has been subject of privatization, with failed attempts in 2003, 2006, 2008 and most recently 2017.

Buoyed by its turnaround strategy, the airline resumed some routes it closed during the crescendo of its struggle. In late February, Air Botswana said it would resume direct flights to Zambia – two years after the route was canceled. The maiden flight was slated for end of March, with subsequent flights to be on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The flights were to be undertaken by the recently acquired 70-seater jet. This was also in addition to the decision to reintroduce directs flights to Cape Town, which resumed last year December.

However, this soon turned out to be a damp squid as the newly acquired Embraer E-70 jet was grounded – meaning it cannot be allowed to fly until Air Botswana satisfied some regulations from the Civil Aviation and Authority Botswana (CAAB). The main impediment was for the airline to deregister the jet from its previous jurisdictions, and acquire a certificate of air worthiness before the jet could commercially fly.

Besides that, Air Botswana also had to contend with the usual complaints of delayed and canceled flights, further eroding the carrier’s reliability and doubts if it will ever turn around its fortunes. Earlier this month, beleaguered with challenges, Air Botswana released a public statement that it is experiencing service disruptions due to severe crew constraints.

“The challenges are due to the delay in the certification process for our jet aircraft, thereby stretching the available ATR crew. This limitation has caused compressing of schedules, last minute cancellations, flight combinations and delayed departure times encroaching on already limited crew hours,” the organization said in a statement.

Dorcas Makgato, minister of Transport and Communications, was also this week thrown in the fray to explain in parliament why Air Botswana has become such an inconvenience to travelers. On Tuesday, Makgato admitted that the ministry together with Air Botswana dropped the ball during the re-fleeting process that was intended to improve the airline’s efficiency and capacity, citing in particular the licensing aspect.

“Air Botswana did not plan for this transition which resulted in this prolonged certification process, which is happening between three parties; Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana, Air Botswana and we also helped them as the ministry,” she said.

“Unfortunately, no one has the capacity at CAAB to license the airline itself, so we had to go outside to another country so that they can help us. That is where the problem came from because they also had their own issues to deal with. They had their own schedules.”

The minister said the process of certification is expected to conclude end of April, and that is when normal operations will resume.

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