Saturday, October 16, 2021

TK advises against open skies, urges National airline refinancing

MAUN ÔÇô Tourism Minister, Tshekedi Khama has not shied away from raising issues of concern regarding ending the monopoly that the national airline, Air Botswana, enjoys operating on the domestic routes.

Khama who was speaking at the annual Hospitality and Tourism Association of Botswana (HATAB) annual conference held here on Friday said it would not be wise to let other air lines compete with Air Botswana in the domestic routes. 

Instead Khama suggested the need to refinance the national airline rather than opening skies for competitors. Khama, who has previously been reported to have “interest” in the aviation sector was responding to some of the commentators who called on the Civil Aviation Authority Botswana (CAAB) to clip Air Botswana’s wings of monopoly over local air routes. 

“I have trust that the new Air Botswana board will make it. All they need is refinancing of the national airline,” Khama said. 

The national airliner was literally brought to its knees in November 2015 when Transport Minister Tshenolo Mabeo sacked the then General Manager Ben Dahwa on the spot and immediately dissolved the national airline board.

Dahwa was appointed to the top post in 2014, after Air Botswana sidelined a local, Joe Motse who had been serving as acting General Manager. Motse later left Air Botswana leaving the national air line with no other option. The troubled air line is currently operating without a substantive executive manager. 

It is not the first time for Air Botswana to operate without a substantive General Manager. In 2013, the national airliner was left rudderless after the death of then acting General Manager, Mphi Tlhomelang. Tlhomelang, formerly AB’s Finance Manager had replaced Sakhile Reiling who quit the top post in March 2013 and relocated to South Africa.

The national carrier has never been stable since the departure of Joshua Galeforolwe, as all the subsequent General Managers jumped ship before their contracts elapsed. Upon the departure of Galeforolwe, then Finance Manager, Zambian national Cornwell Muleya was appointed on an acting basis. This was shortly before the appointment of Willie Mokgatle, who later resigned and joined Shell Oil International.

Other subsequent appointees include Beatrice Selotlegeng, who also served in an acting capacity before paving the way for Lance Brogden. Former Air Botswana Head of Human Resources Maemo Bantsi has also served as acting General Manager.

The Air Botswana Board later appointed British national, Mike Higgins to the top post. He tendered his resignation within three months of his appointment. He was replaced by Reiling, who left after less than two years at helm.

Reiling’s departure was seen as a major blow for Air Botswana as she had been driving the struggling airliner’s major strategic plan of recovery. It was under her leadership that Air Botswana was readmitted into the International Air Transport Association (IATA) as a full member after finally passing the exacting IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA). Air Botswana had been failing the audit since 2007.

The Zimbabwe-born pilot also put Air Botswana back on the road to financial recovery and reduced its net losses. With Air Botswana dogged by a spate of bad publicity, Reiling left the airline after being head-hunted by IATA to take up a very senior position in Johannesburg, South Africa. Air Botswana, which has been troubled by poor customer service and an ageing fleet, is facing stiff competition from other airliners that seek to penetrate and operate in the domestic market. 

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