Ben Dahwa, the newly appointed general manager of Air Botswana, says he wants to see the national airliner well capitalized, consistently delivering on its mandate and excelling to become a regional leader. In an interview, Dahwa said it is possible for Air Botswana to be turned around so that it lives its tag line of ‘going your way’ and becomes a well-operated national carrier that brings total happiness to all stakeholders.
“My immediate priorities hinge on three success factors; on-time performance, regaining people’s trust and confidence as well as immediate cost containment,” he said.
He pointed out that all three priorities must achieve immediate levels of success if the airline is to remain sustainable. He maintained that it is a basic fundamental for the national airliner to maintain on-time departures and arrivals within the network of operations if it is to remain viable as an airliner and business that meets today’s discerning passenger customer expectations.
“The Air Botswana brand is currently impaired and unfairly represented and we urgently need to regain our true position in the region. The future and continued existence of Air Botswana lies entirely in our hands as employees of the airline,” said Dahwa.
He explained that operating a scheduled airline is very tight in terms of trading margins and extremely sensitive to revenues with a very stubborn cost structure. Overall, he said, the business is predominantly driven by fuel prices and costly regulated safety compliances. Compared to others in the region, Air Botswana is a very small airline that operates on fairly thin routes as dictated by the naturally small domestic market, such that achieving critical mass would not be feasible unless the airliner aggressively grows its business base within the region and beyond as a medium to long term strategy.
“Air Botswana’s ageing fleet and maintenance problems have impacted aircraft availability to support the schedule as published. As a result on-time performance was hugely compromised. We have since revised and optimized our network schedule to fit the equipment pieces available and we have seen significant improvements up to levels of 20percent,” he said.
Dahwa views the relocation of Diamond Trading Company from London to Gaborone as a huge opportunity for Air Botswana to capture new world markets, as there will be a significant number of diamond dealers travelling in and out of Botswana. In anticipation of increased cargo business through SSKIA airport, Air Botswana recently expanded its cargo facilities and handling space. Dahwa believes that success starts with honestly acknowledging the existence of problems and establishing a base from which real solutions or corrective action plans can be constructed to address the root cause. To this end, he said, in January 2014 management consultants were appointed to assist the airline with troubleshooting, recommending and implementing turn around initiatives.
He said there is need for dynamic rationalization of Air Botswana’s route network and operating schedule as well as working with partners to gain a wider market reach and business base.
“We need to review our internal processes and procedures by improving and simplifying how we operate as an airline entity,” he said.
He sees objectivity, respect, fairness, commitment to delivery, policies, processes and procedures as key must-haves for one to stay afloat. He also believes in maintaining dialogue and keeping conservations alive, as one cannot afford to be aloof.
“I consult a lot and I force myself to listen. Stakeholders love to be communicated to, they love factual feedback and acknowledgement all the time,” he said.
Dahwa is also alive to the fact that aviation has very low margins of error and running a national airline demands aviation maturity as well as strong and disciplined leadership that will be able to deliver results to a broad array of stakeholders. Also one needs to appreciate the existence of many masters; the board and management of CAAB.