Lusaka – After four false starts, Zambia Airways could finally take to the skies on December 1, 2021 thanks to a new partnership with Ethiopian Airlines.
The US$30 million investment, which gives Ethiopian Airlines – one of the world’s most successful carriers – a 45 percent shareholding in the enterprise, will see Zambia Airways commencing domestic routes, before spreading its wings to South Africa and Zimbabwe in the first quarter of 2022.
Zambia Airways last took off in 1985 as it was grounded by viability and liquidity problems.
In September, the flag carrier’s board announced plans to re-launch with a fleet of three leased aircraft: two DHC-8-Q400s and one B737-800. The craft are supplied by Ethiopian Airlines, which operates a fleet of twenty-seven Q400s and sixteen B737-800s.
The joint venture was established in August 2018 between the Industrial Development Corporation Limited of Zambia (IDC) with 55 percent equity, and Ethiopian Airlines holding the remainder. The initial US$30 million investment by the Ethiopians could be doubled depending on how quickly the venture demonstrates viability.
And now after four prior attempts, the first flight has been scheduled for December 1 this year.
The IDC is optimistic that the enterprise will succeed, and that it will boost the country’s tourism sector, which – as in countries across the globe – has been severely impacted by a pandemic-induced slump in travel.
Mr Mateyo Kaluba, the IDC chief executive, said, “I strongly urge the (Zambia Airways) board and management to manage the airline in accordance with international best practice. They have the responsibility to make Zambia Airways an airline that will bring pride and jobs to the Zambian people”.
However, critics say the relaunch is ill-timed, claiming that a national carrier is an expensive vanity project for a country that needs to deploy resources on immediate critical needs.
And Mr Steve Beel of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, warned: “The revival of a national airline needs to be handled carefully to introduce greater competition to expand access and reduce costs, but avoid crowding out existing private sector players.”
Local think tank, the Centre for Trade and Policy Development, weighed in: “We strongly advise the government to put the national airline on hold till the nation is in a better macroeconomic position to launch it as a regional carrier.”