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Air Botswana’s continued turbulence

Kabelo Adamson
CLEARING THE AIR: Masire and Khunwana

*To retrench over 200 staff *Targets to be profitable by 2021

Air Botswana’s top dogs have admitted the national airliner’s turbulence is far from over.

‘Smoother skies are on the horizon but it will take some time to reach them!’ was the underlying message as management updated the media on the airline’s progress this week.

Recently, Air Botswana has come under increasing fire for late cancellations and long flight delays.

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This came as a crushing blow to the airline, who last year replaced its aging fleet with three new planes.

The state-owned company followed the purchase by cutting its staff contingent by almost a third.

However, the new era Air Botswana were banking on is yet to materialise.

Highlighting the hiccups, the airline’s Board of Directors’ Chairperson, Tebogo Masire said, “We had thought buying new aircraft and getting rid of the 150 or 200 people would do the trick. But unfortunately in the short term that has been affected by two or three things.”

The first obstacle Masire mentioned was not getting the value they expected for trading their aircraft.

“Therefore that will obviously affect our books. It is also imperative that we visit the manpower issue,” he continued, revealing the airline currently has three aircrafts against 400 employees.

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According to Masire, ideally they should be employing around half that number.

The company plan to bring down the numbers through retrenchments as well as unbundling of services, such as ground handling to make it a stand-alone business.

Masire explained that Air Botswana’s troubles were compounded by the introduction of the jet and the two ATRs which caused further instability to the airline.

“When we introduced the jet and the two ATRs at the same time, it caused a lot of instability in the sense that it was like biting more than we could chew. Additionally at the beginning of this year we had a lot operational issues where flights were always late,” revealed the former Botswana Defence Force (BDF) commander who also sits on other boards such as that of the Botswana Stock Exchange Limited.

Whilst Masire maintained they had turned a corner and the airline schedule was more or less back to normal, he conceded things were still far from perfect.

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“We still have teething problems because the jet itself has proven to be prone to technical issues. As we speak it is grounded!”

Meanwhile, Air Botswana General Manager, Agnes Khunwana announced the airline is ready to re-introduce Harare and Lusaka routes, which she said they are confident will now be profitable.

“We are also planning to link this with our Cape Town flight, so as to boost volumes with traffic from or to Cape Town,” added Khunwana.

Air Botswana, which has been struggling to make profits for years, is expected to be profitable by 2021, according to Khunwana – although she did not state how this will be achieved!

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