Qatar Airways, one of the world’s largest carriers, says it is looking to enter into commercial agreements and build alliances with more airlines in the African region.
The Doha-based airline is pushing to strengthen its presence in South Africa and across the continent despite the pandemic-related uncertainty surrounding the recovery of the aviation industry. In Botswana, at least three airlines that used to frequent the country’s international airports are nowhere to be seen. The absence has been blamed on the depressed demand for their service due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions. The list of the absent airlines includes Qatar Airways, which was serving mostly the business and tourism travel, Air Namibia and South African Express Airways which was serving the business travel between Windhoek, Durban and Johannesburg.
Civil aviation authorities say this loss impacted negatively on tourism and business travel. What’s worse, some of the airlines have been liquidated, leaving the Civil Aviation Authority Botswana (CAAB) out of pocket due to unpaid bills.
The discontinuation of these airlines means a huge loss of revenue to CAAB in terms of landing fees, passenger tax and parking fees.
The minister of Transport, Thulagano Segokgo, says the aviation industry has been affected since the onset of COVID-19 due to reduced air travel. Segokgo says air travel in Botswana has dropped by 90%, a similar reduction in revenues for the operators. In the meantime, Segokgo says the country continues to seek avenues, partnerships and alliances as well as luring investors to identify Botswana as a potential tourism destination to ensure the survival of the aviation industry.
“Discussions to attract Airlines to operate and transit through Botswana happen at various levels and include several stakeholders such as CAAB, BTO and Airlines to attract tourism and business travel,” says Segokgo.
Segokgo thinks that the sustenance of scheduled flights is largely dependent on the growing demand for the service by tourists and businesses wanting to travel to Botswana and the region. He further said internationally, there have been limited flights since mid-November 2020. Segokgo also observed that concessioners inside the terminal building are also closing shop due to reduced passenger numbers at the airports, adding that the local employees of these airlines have lost their jobs.
Segokgo says domestic flights have not stopped since 17 July 2020. To augment the drop in the demand for travel, the country’s national airline – Air Botswana introduced scenic flights to encourage domestic air travel and enhance opportunities for revenue generation. Air Botswana also has scheduled flights to Johannesburg and is expected to release a revised operations schedule to match current travel demand patterns.
Meanwhile, the Airline industry cash burn is expected to continue through 2021 as early figures from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) show a weak first half of the year. IATA says the new COVID-19 variants discovered over the past few months mean the virus control is much harder than expected. New COVID-19 cases remain high in most regions, leading to renewed travel restrictions in all regions.