BY BONNIE MODIAKGOTLA
While the news that award winning Qatar Airways will be taking to Botswana skies in October were met with excitement, insiders in the aviation sector worry that it could affect the struggling national airline – Air Botswana.
On Thursday, Qatar Airways announced that on October 27 it would start its three weekly flights direct from its capital Doha to Gaborone, marking the first intercontinental passenger flights to the landlocked country in close to 30 years. The last intercontinental passenger flights from Gaborone were in 1990 when British Airways stopped offering the service.
The weekly flights will be on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, with the flights operated through the Airbus A350-900 – which boasts of 36 business seats and 247 economy seats. According to available information, the flights will start from Doha’s Hamad International Airport, then connecting through Johannesburg before heading to Sir Seretse Khama International Airport (SSIA). Qatar will also operate flights from Gaborone to Doha, following the same route.
The announcement of the new flight route comes three years later after Qatar Airways and Air Botswana signed a codeshare agreement, which covered the Gaborone to Johannesburg Route. A codeshare agreement in aviation refers to a marketing arrangement in which an airline places its designator code on a flight operated by another airline, and sells the ticket for that flight. This allows airlines to offer flights to destinations they do not actually serve.
However, until the latest announcement to launch direct flights from Doha to Gaborone, Qatar Airways had no fifth freedom rights on the Gaborone ÔÇô Johannesburg route. The fifth freedom rights allows airlines to carry passengers from one’s country to a second country, and from that country to a third country.
Qatar Airways becomes the first Middle Eastern carrier to fly to Gaborone. This will be in addition to the other international flights already connecting to Gaborone, which include connections from Ethiopia, South Africa and Zambia.
“We are excited to be launching three-weekly flights to Gaborone, another highly sought after destination in Africa. Qatar Airways is committed to growing our presence in Africa and adding to the 22 destinations in 15 countries we already offer,” said Akbar Al Baker, the CEO of Qatar Airways, in a statement.
“Our new service to the enchanting city of Gaborone will enable us to provide a seamless journey to and from Botswana, for passengers connecting from our extensive network of more than 160 destinations worldwide.”
While the news of Qatar’s impending arrival to Botswana skies have generated excitement both at government and household levels, insiders have already raised concerns that it could spell trouble for the struggling national carrier. The concerns emanate from Air Botswana’s operational issues that include unreliability due to delayed or cancelled flights.
There have been numerous complaints from Air Botswana passengers who have missed connecting flights in Johannesburg due to mishaps from Air Botswana, and some had already started using buses from Gaborone to connect to O.R Tambo airport so they do not miss their international flights. Now the arrival of Qatar Airways in Gaborone – which offers direct flights to Doha ÔÇô is expected to capture some of Air Botswana’s customers.
In fact, it is not hard to see why Qatar Airways will prove to be a formidable competitor to the national airline ÔÇô the Doha based carrier is a recipient of top global recognitions, including the “world’s best airline” at the 2019 World Airline Awards, and also won “best airline in the Middle East”, “world’s best business class”. Moreover, the airline is a five-time winner of the prestigious Skytrax Airline of the year tittle.
“During the code sharing deal, passengers travelling through Qatar Airways could book directly all the way to Gaborone if it was their end destination, and this helped boost Air Botswana’s numbers. But with Qatar now operating direct flights, those numbers will take a knock,” revealed an aviation insider who preferred to remain anonymous.
“I have heard that the new deal will boost tourism, but I doubt that will be as much as we expect because most tourists already fly direct to Maun and Kasane from Johannesburg,” said the inside, who is also a pilot at the main tourism areas.
Another insider with good understanding of air Botswana operations said the arrival of Qatar Airways would prove to be a pivotal moment for Air Botswana, explaining that the carrier will have to do more to reverse its bad reputation of unreliability, and added that Qatar’s move will definitely affect the national carrier.