It has been thirty-five years since Zambia airways was grounded, momentum is gathering to give Zambia Airways its wings back with Lusaka saying the national flag carrier could return to the skies by year-end.
To this end Zambia’s government, said Tourism Minister Mutotwe Kafwaya this week, was in the process of finalising a US$30 million joint venture with Ethiopian Airlines , though some critics believe the project will not be viable at present because the global aviation sector is in a tailspin because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
International travel is down to its lowest in modern times, and millions of jobs and billions of dollars are on the line as countries have for the better part of 2020 closed their borders to most travelers as a new coronavirus control measure.
However, Minister Kafwaya said an Air Operating Certificate could be issued soon for Zambia Airways.
“It might interest you to note that the most challenging steps have already being handled and where we have reached is to officially launch the company,” he said.
Zambia had planned to relaunch the national carrier two years ago but the proposed 55-45 shareholding agreement with Ethiopian Airlines – an aviation sector giant – hit a snag.
Centre for Trade Policy and Development senior researcher Mr Bright Chizonde, however, believes this is the wrong time for Zambia to be investing in a national carrier.
“Its (revival is) not viable because losses are more certain with COVID-19,” he said, adding that the government was better off investing the money in other areas or n servicing its debts.
“Many airlines have gone under, there is almost no air transport demand,” he added.
The International Air Transport Association has estimated worldwide sector losses in the region of US$84 billion this year, saying the toll on aviation and directly related services could top US$500 billion by mid-2021.
However, Minister Kafwaya said critics should appreciate that the airline’s management would strategise reentry and operations accordingly.
“When we issue the (Air Operating) Certificate, the company management will strategise and then decide when to start operating. We can’t force them to start operating just because they have been given the certificate.
“… management has to decide, based on the business opportunities available and the passengers who are willing to start traveling amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.”