Saturday, August 15, 2020

The Air Botswana Privatisation Mess

Dear Editor

Following coverage of the Air Botswana privatization mess, I believe it is correct to have suspended the take-over by SA Airlink and would like to commend parliament for a job well done.
To the aide at the office of the president and whoever they are in cahoots with, shame on you for ill advising our government.

To the Finance Minister, B Gaolathe, and the Transport Minister, L Motsomi, I hope you realize that you are being misled.

We have trust and believe in you as our respectful ministers, but I truly believe aviation is a field that you are not fully conversant with.

There are several Batswana, home and abroad, that have the knowledge and who have been involved with Air Botswana for over 20 years.

For a change, please look to them, than to the foreign advisers you are so fond of.

To the Members of Parliament who objected to Air Botswana?s ?hostile take-over? by SA Airlink, especially to Honourable MP?s Maoto, Ntuane, Shalesando, Sebetela and Molefabangwe, many thanks for a job well done.

To those who ran around using Air Botswana credit cards for unauthorized transactions I hope the DCEC/or law enforcement is called upon to punish you.

I must state that I am not against the government privatizing any organisation, but it must be done the right way. One would have thought that the government would be looking for a strategic partner, preferably a well-run airline that would benefit Air Botswana.

A partner that would help Air Botswana grow with, perhaps, the introduction of a better fleet to be able to compete well in the region and eventually long haul. With this in mind SA Airlink was definitely a wrong choice.

Air Botswana today is by far a much better brand than SA Airlink. For starters, Air Botswana is a well-established national airline, well known throughout the international reservation systems and operating superior aircrafts.

SA Airlink on the other hand is a domestic carrier under the shadow of South African Airways.

The ATR42/500 aircraft that Air Botswana operates is without doubt the best turbo-prop aircraft in the world, with the latest technology for aircraft of its size. Moreover, this is the aircraft that Air Botswana staff in general is well experienced with, a very important point in airline operation. It is a lot better than the BAe Jetstream 41 aircraft operated by SA Airlink. Many airlines in the world operate the ATR because of its efficiency, reliability, comfort and low operating costs/seat/mile. In Africa, Botswana, South Africa, Malawi, Morocco, Egypt, Gabon, Algeria, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Kenya, to name a few, operate the ATR 42. In comparison I believe SA Airlink is the sole operator of the Bae Jetstream 41 in the continent. It is no wonder then that the ATR order book in Toulouse, France for the ATR is fully booked!

From newspaper reports, there seems to be misleading information that for Air Botswana to improve on-time departures, reliability and profits it would require new aircraft. This is not true at all!
The Jumbos that criss-cross the globe on a daily basis are much older than the Air Botswana aircrafts.

Aircraft are very expensive, but have very long life spans. The Air Botswana fleet is still in good shape.
In fact, they are much younger, age wise, than the SA Airlink aircraft. Good aircraft maintenance practice, good management, both ground and flight operations play a vital role to a successful airline operation; new aircrafts alone are not the solution.

What Air Botswana needs is rather changing of management policies than a change of aircrafts. In the meantime, if the government can?t find a strategic partner for Air Botswana, they should move to restructure it. It is a fact that passenger loads are good at the moment; one can hardly get a seat on any of the major routes, even with Air Botswana operating the 46 seat ATRs on these routes, how SA Airlink proposes to fly the same routes with the smaller 29 seat Jetstream 41s leaves me wondering? Despite the good loads, however, the current CEO has not been successful in turning the airline around, which doesn?t come as a complete surprise. He brought no past airline management experience. In fact, Air Botswana is the first airline he has directly worked for. To be CEO of an airline is a huge task that requires lots of airline experience.

Air Botswana is a national airline of Botswana and should always remain as such. It would be sad to see SA Airlink flying South African registered aircrafts with a South African flag in our country.

The proposal from SA Airlink for the Botswana government to get rid of anything to do with Air Botswana i.e. the disposal of aircrafts, headquarters buildings and the uncertainty of over 300 Batswana employed by Air Botswana leaves a bitter taste in any ones mouth. Per ICAO regulations, national airlines operate aircrafts registered in their countries with their headquarters in their respective countries. How SA Airlink proposes to go about this rule is fascinating indeed! Are Batswana prepared to have their airline dissolved and controlled from Johannesburg? I doubt! We are not, and never will be a South African province. National pride is at stake here!

Air Botswana is not the first airline to face financial problems or to seek privatization as a solution. Kenya Airways had problems. It brought in KLM- Royal Dutch Airlines as a partner, and today they are flourishing, as perhaps the best airline in Africa.

The Kenya Airways model should work well for Air Botswana. Another recent example is Alitalia- the Italian national airline. Today it faces similar financial problems to those of Air Botswana. The Italian government has opted to get a strategic partner for it, with conditions, of course! Alitalia is to remain the national airline of Italy, with its colours and aircrafts registered in Italy. The headquarters is to remain in place and staff retained. Any staff retrenchment should be the very last resort.

The government should pull the strings in these cases not the other way round.

Let us not be in haste to privatize Air Botswana.

Capt. Kethotswe Dick Mulalu.

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