MAHOGANY Air founder and chief executive officer Jim Belemu says the future of private airlines in the country’s aviation sector is very bleak.
In an interview, Monday, Belemu said private players in the sector could not continue sacrificing.
“When Zambia Airways was coming, we said look, ‘let there be a private sector initiative so that maybe we all come together’. And then the government decides to go at it alone and bring in Ethiopian Airlines. Now you see how the fares are? They are okay and it’s fine. They look okay to the travelers paying those fares but it’s just a matter of time. Those fares are not sustainable in whichever way. Now these short term benefits, they don’t take a country anywhere,” Belemu said.
“At a certain point, we all needed to be there. We don’t regard what the local players have done. We have got so many employees, pilots and so when you consider all that, there should have been a word to say look, let the local players also continue surviving. Again, they have not made an initiative to absorb anyone. So the future of aviation, particularly the private airline, is very bleak, that I can tell you and it is a very unfortunate thing because as you may know, the private airlines are the ones that are more sustainable in terms of going forward. Yes, they might say Ethiopian Airways is profitable but Zambia Airways is not Ethiopian Airways.”
Belemu said it seemed government preferred incentivising foreign companies.
“If you look at the effects of COVID-19, first of all we the local operators thought we were going to be intensified during that period and then also we thought the government was seriously going to look at the possibility of giving stimulus. On the contrary, what we saw is the musicians, other people being given these stimulus. You look at the levels of sacrifice the airlines put in terms of the cost, even employment. We thought that equally, especially when we made a strong presentation, the sector should have been looked at,” he said.
“You know, in the end, this sector also compliments tourism itself. It compliments the business travels and does a lot of things. So the collateral benefits are so high but nevertheless, the airport kept on charging us high despite all the presentations that we made. We kept on singing these songs to say look, the airport charges are the highest in the region and beyond even in Africa. And then when you are local, you don’t pay like you pay. Here what I’ve seen, they would rather incentivise the foreign airline. So it is a very difficult business to really continue sacrificing [like] that.”
He, however, expressed optimism that the new dawn government would consider addressing various challenges faced by private players in the aviation sector.
“For now, I don’t really know how the government will look at things. I have seen that in the last few weeks, there was a parliamentary committee visit to the airport and they emphasised to say look, they want to see a difference in terms of airport charges to lower them. So I believe this new government will start looking at things differently,” said Belemu.