Thursday, October 28, 2021

Botswana in talks with Qatar, SAA to return to local skies

True to its word, South African Airways (SAA) this week re-launched its operations with flights between Johannesburg, Cape Town, Accra, Kinshasa, Harare, Lusaka and Maputo. Ideally Gaborone would have been part of the list but SAA has since quit the local airways. This is after Botswana lost not only SAA but Qatar and Namibian airways after the trio made an abrupt suspension of their operations in 2020. The halt in services has been blamed on the depressed demand due to global Covid-19 related movement restricts. Qatar Airways – one of the world’s much sort after airlines inaugurated its route to Botswana in 2019 becoming its ninth destination and operating three times per week.

This past week, the Minister responsible for Transport – Thulagano Segokgo said the Botswana government is constantly making efforts to invite Qatar and other airlines to operate in the local airspace.

He stated that even though it is a known fact that global travel was heavily affected by the outbreak of covid-19, government continues to be worried by the suspension of trade by the airline.

“Discussions are ongoing and at this point I want to allow engagements at this level to continue with their efforts so that they can achieve the results that we want,”

“What is important is that through CAAB, we continue to engage to have them back operating in our airspace,” said Segokgo.

He further said even though government still remains interested, it should be noted that the airliners also take into consideration the viability of the route.

“It would not make sense for me to make premature announcements and I guess you still recall that the aviation suspension was at some point lifted during the course of the state of emergency but travel volumes were still depressed,” added Segokgo.

He stated that although the aviation space continues to be grim, there is an expectation of recovery, adding that there are positives to be noted such as the ramp up of vaccination and relaxation of traveling protocols.

“There is a silver lining because now people are starting to understand that when traveling from one destination to another there are requirements in place,” said Segokgo.

He also stated that efforts are also underway to attract more reputable airlines as this will also boost the tourism sector.

“I am sure you and I will agree that the tourism industry is the second biggest contributor to our gross domestic product,”

“We are working tirelessly to ensure that we boost the sector and we are continuously engaging with different stakeholders to achieve this,” said Segokgo.

For their part, Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana (CAAB) Head of Public Relations and Communications, Modipe Nkwe attributed the loss of three airlines to Closure of Borders, travel restrictions and loss of business.

“We hope there will be interest in travel internationally based on the increase in international vaccination against COVID 19, and the implementation of lifting of restrictions in travel internationally,” said Nkwe.

He stated that the Namibian Airways is liquidated while South African Airways has been restructured.

“Not sure if SOE had anything to do with international travel restrictions. Our airspace was hugely affected by world travel restrictions when countries closed their boarders to contain the spread of Covid-19. For CAAB, we lost 97% of our revenue,” said Nkwe.

The pull out by airlines has coincided with the Hospitality and Tourism Association Botswana (HATAB) efforts of reviving the sector through plans to introduce direct flights from Europe to the Okavango delta.

HATAB Public Affairs and Communications Manager Tebogo Ramakgathi recently said they have been in discussions looking into flights that could fly directly into the country. She stated that Aviation Company named Fly Okavango has shown interest.

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