MAHOGANY Air Chief Executive Officer Dr Jim Belemu the airline industry was the hardest hit due to COVID-19 because none of them expected that they would have to deal with a shift of such magnitude.

And Dr Belemu says the coming of Zambia Airways, with its reduced fares, has further made it difficult for private airlines.

In an interview, Dr Belemu said while all businesses planned for certain risks, covid was another thing altogether and local airlines had not yet recovered the numbers they used to hit before the pandemic.

“The airline industry was the hardest hit due to Covid. First of all, the truth also is that no one ever expected that there could be such a shift or even bare losses. In our business plans, yes, they did comprise of some of the risks that may occur in the industry but not of this magnitude, however. And therefore obviously we can say that particularly Zambia, the local airlines are dying a slow death because you can never come back to those numbers that were there before,” he said.

“Firstly, the travel is not yet full-fledged across the globe. We have seen industrialised countries that there is of course more travel, but it hasn’t trickled down to us here, in particular, Zambia. The other thing obviously is that the cost of doing business has skyrocketed in the sense that you are flying few numbers and yet you have to still bear the same cost. Then obviously the other thing is that people have innovated, before travel was everything now people have found a way of having either virtual meetings or virtual training and so on.”

And Dr Belemu said the coming of Zambia Airways, with its reduced fares, had also made it difficult and unsustainable for private airlines.

“So all this accounts to the fact that the numbers will take a very long time to come back to normal and yet each flight that is taken, there is a cost to it. And the other negative thing about us is that we could not benefit from any stimulus package compared to other airlines in other countries who literally got a boost from their own governments. So competitive wise, local airlines can not be compared to, at least private airlines, I’m talking about,” he said.

“Then also you have seen the advent or coming of the Zambia Airways, who have brought down the fares to below normal, indicating that for private airlines this becomes extremely difficult. At least speaking for Mahogany Air, I can safely say that this kind of a thing is very painful, a lot of money coming from private pockets, it’s not so easy and it’s not sustainable.”

Dr Belemu lamented that the airline industry was not an easy business anymore.

“The other issue which I could mention is that when in Zambia we are talking about tourism, tourism initiative, I have seen a lot of emphasis on the strive to rebuild the tourism. Apparently, airlines are least talked about, airlines are seen as if they are the last and yet airlines are supposed to be one of the largest contributors to the travel of tourism. I wonder how we could make such a mistake,” he said.

“So I believe that whatever initiative we are doing in Zambia in terms of rebuilding our tourism, I think the airline must be at the centre of everything. But unfortunately, it’s not like that. So what I can say is that it is not an easy business anymore and numbers will never come back to normal at least not in the shortest time. Whilst we are seeing globally in other countries, of course, the travel is increasing it’s coming almost to normal but us it will take quite a very long time if at all it happens.”

Dr Belemu said the cash flow for Mahogany Airlines was also greatly affected.

“The greatest impact obviously straight away was the cash flow itself. I mean there was a total drop. We were losing almost five million kwacha. Here we are talking about even the service of the aircraft because the more you park the aircraft, the more the service and it doesn’t matter whether you are flying or not flying, you have to continue servicing,” said Dr Belemu.

“Then we have got heavy insurance on aircraft which we continued paying. So maintenance of aircraft themselves, it took extreme budgets and these are funds that are taken not from the revenue side because you are on the ground. No wonder in most countries they did give out those incentives and even the cash incentive. So we feel that it’s going to be a lot of continued losses for airlines like private airlines particularly because of having the same, loss of numbers of people flying.”