Thursday, March 4, 2021

Tough times for Air Botswana as SA Airlink flies Gaborone- Joburg route

Air Botswana and South African Airways competition for the Gaborone- Johannesburg route is set to deepen following the decision by SA Airlink to launch flights on the same route this past week. Airlink is a regional airliner and a subsidiary of SAA.

SAA operates 36 weekly flights while the national carrier, Air Botswana, has 32 weekly services in the same route and the arrival of the airliner will intensify competition in the 285 kilometers Gaborone ÔÇô Johannesburg route.

The South African company said it intends to service the route 10 times a week with its 83-seat Avro RJ85 carriers. With the latest addition of this route Airlink will now be servicing three destinations in Botswana; these include Gaborone, Kasane and Maun.

The Airlink Johannesburg ÔÇô Gaborone service is targeted at the growing number of corporate travellers looking to visit Botswana on a same day return basis. Of late, Gaborone has become important commercial centre within the Southern African region and is also home to the regional block, Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Available data shows that for too long the Johannesburg to Gaborone route has featured amongst the most expensive regional routes in Southern Africa and Airlink looks forward to being able to offer more attractive fares and a further choice of carrier to businessman travelling between South Africa and Botswana.

Observers are of the view that the decision by SA Airlink to start operations in this highly competitive route will further add pressure to the ailing national airline, Air Botswana which is currently operating without a substantive General Manager.

The national airliner’s mystery of operating without a permanent GM continued late last year when it lost its acting general manager, Mphi Tlhomelang who passed on in June last year after being appointed to the top post on acting basis. Tlhomelang, who was formerly AB’s Finance Manager, replaced Sakhile Reiling who quit the top post in March last year.

Air Botswana is a carrier of the national brand and has never been stable since the departure of Joshua Galeforolwe as all the past substantive General Managers appointed jumped ship before the end of their contracts. Upon the departure of Galeforolwe, the then Finance Manager, 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 was also appointed on an acting basis before she paved way for Lance Brogden. It was after Brogden left Air Botswana that the then Finance Manager Mphi Tlhomelang and Maemo Bantsi (Head of Human Resources) were appointed (on acting capacities).

The Air Botswana Board was later to appoint a British national Mike Higgins. Higgins to everyone’s surprise tendered his resignation within three months of his appointment and was replaced with Reiling.

But just under two years at helm, Reiling, who was also the first female head of the airline in 2011, dropped a bombshell; she announced that she would be leaving the ailing national airline by March last year. Her move was seen as a major blow to Air Botswana since upon her arrival at Air Botswana, she had been driving a major strategic plan of recovery for the struggling national airline.

It was under the leadership of Reiling 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) audit. Air Botswana had been failing the audit since 2007.

The Zimbabwean born pilot also helped Air Botswana’s financial recovery, reducing its net losses which had been accumulated over many years.

With Air Botswana enjoying its fair share of bad publicity, Reiling was then head-hunted by IATA to take up a very senior position in Johannesburg, South Africa. She ultimately left the airline in March last year.

With all these mishaps, AB, which has been plagued by poor service over the past few years, seems to be getting stiff competition from other airliners that operate and seek to operate in the country.
Projections show that from last year going forward, the country’s aviation sector will be boosted by the possible completion of the multi-billion Pula Airports Infrastructure projects which entails the expansion and refurbishment of Maun International Airport and Sir Seretse Khama International Airport. The Francistown airport which was also being refurbished has since been completed and handed back to government by the constructor.

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