Monday, April 19, 2021

Air Botswana’s new fleet reason for flight delays

BY THOBO MOTLHOKA

Poor service delivery by Air Botswana (AB) has been attributed to the national airliner’s failure to undertake the necessary preparations before acquiring its new fleet. The corporation has been making news for all the wrong reasons lately with constant delays causing extreme inconveniences to business and other travelers.

Speaking in Parliament this week Transport Minister Dorcas Makgato said the delays began when AB did the re-fleeting which, paradoxically, was aimed at improving efficiency, and capacity of the airline. AB recently acquired two new turbo propeller ATR 72-600s and an Embraer 170 aircraft.

“Normally in this industry when you do acquisitions, you must plan for it in a number of ways,” Makgato said. “There is licensing aspect of it; the equipment itself, there is the licensing of the crew that is going to do it, there is the licensing of those who are supposed to evaluate from the regulatory aspect of it and it has to be a planned transition. I strongly believe that in the planning process, we dropped the ball.”

She said AB’s failure to plan for the transition resulted in the prolonged certification process, which she said was happening between three parties; Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB), AB, and the government.

“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. Having said all that, we are hoping that in the next two weeks, we should have finished this process of certification so that we can start flying them.”

As a consequence the airliner has had to reduce routes to try and prevent delays. “This is just a temporary solution to try and protect our reputation and integrity. We will go back to the schedule after having processed everything because the equipment would be there,” the Minister said, also admitting that they did not plan as efficiently as they should have. “That is why we are in this situation because sometimes the issue is that we have pilots who have exceeded the hours. Other times you have pilots but they do not have the necessary license for the new equipment which they have to apply for.”

Makgato was addressing a question from Nkange Member of Parliament Edwin Batshu who requested for a detailed account for the daily AB flight delays. Batshu also wanted the Minister to apologize to the public for the inconveniences caused by the airliner and call on the AB staff to improve communication in addressing passengers waiting for flights.

“We will apologize to the nation for what we did. Some people end up having further expenses, their plans or lives get mixed up. I would be irresponsible if I could not render a public apology to all those that we have inconvenienced,” she said, adding “Certainly, we must improve the way we communicate with our passengers. It is an area that has been brought to my attention.”

MP for Francistown West Ignatius Moswaane was not convinced by the apology. “It has been five years since Air Botswana was not effective, and you apologize every year. What is it that is so special which you can give to show that your apology has value? It has become a norm for Air Botswana not to follow the travelling schedule.”

Makgato however said apologizing frequently was all in day’s work for airlines internationally.

“The issue that Air Botswana has apologized numerous times is very normal. Every airline in the world apologizes almost every day. Even today Boeing apologized because their planes crashed. So, in the business of the airline, there is a norm that you apologize, you communicate, whether it be a technical delay or nontechnical delay and so on.” Makgato said she expected ‘normal’ services to resume before the end of April, 2019.

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