Air Botswana: Carrying more than the hopes of a nation

When Air Botswana was successfully readmitted into the International Air Transport Association (IATA) register in July 2012, it was an endorsement of the efforts made to improve operations. The return heralded the prospect of continued IATA support, which will in time further strengthen the national carrier’s standards.

Approval from IATA followed the successful completion of the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) earlier in the year which is a pre-requisite for registration. Air Botswana voluntarily resigned from IATA in 2008 after failing to close all findings of an audit in 2007. The airline then worked tirelessly to re-register back with IATA, an association representing over 200 airlines, which equates to 84 per cent of total air traffic.

“This is a significant milestone for us at Air Botswana. It shows that the hard work we are putting in everyday is bearing fruit. I take my hat off to each and every employee at Air Botswana who spent sleepless nights to see this dream come true”, said Sakhile Reiling, CEO at the time, “the main focus for airlines all over the world undoubtedly is safety. Being an IATA member therefore will benefit Air Botswana since IATA continually assists its members in continuing to meet industry standards.

Currently, Air Botswana operates and maintains a nine-strong fleet of BAE 146 as well as ATR42-500 and ATR72-500 advanced turbo propeller aircrafts which operate daily domestic and regional scheduled flights. The airline has however embarked on an ambitious new strategy that will take it into the future and become a force to reckon with regionally and internationally and which saw the acquisition of two AVRO RJ 85 aircraft (equipped with a bigger engine) in August 2012.

Strategically it is an important time for airlines to position themselves for expansion, as the world realises the untapped potential of the African aviation industry, with infrastructure taking a high priority in many nations.

When the Republic of Botswana, formerly the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland, emerged as an independent nation on 30 September 1966, few could have imagined that one of the poorest countries in the world would develop so quickly into the African jewel that it is today.

Whilst Botswana is rated highly for its democratic traditions and stability, its robust economy, its sound and transparent administration, and its outstanding natural attractions, Air Botswana has played an important role in this development.

The national carrier has contributed fully to the phenomenal growth of the country that it serves well, and in so doing has built a wide reputation for quality air services that is quite disproportionate to its modest size.

Air Botswana was founded in 1972 and in 1988 the airline was absorbed into the Botswana government as a parastatal under the Ministry of Works, Transport and Communications.

The organisation Air Botswana is headquartered in Gaborone, where it also operates two sales offices. The airline also has commercial presence in Maun, Kasane, Francistown and Johannesburg, as well as in major parts of the world through its general sales agents representation.

Civil aviation is a key barometer of national development. A country’s ability to provide reliable air services and to handle air travellers safely and efficiently is essential if it is to take its place as a full member of the international community, which is why the re-admittance to IATA has been hailed such a triumph.

With 391 staff, there is a good mix of skills but such is the constant churn of technology and regulation within the aviation industry, that the airline has a need for continuous training and regular acquisition of additional skills.

Air Botswana’s base is at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport, Gaborone. It is a domestic and regional carrier, operating and maintaining a modern fleet of turbo-propeller and jet aircraft.

The backbone of the fleet remains two 68-seat ATR72-500 and three 47-seat ATR42-500 aircraft from the noted French-Italian manufacturer Avions Transport Regional. With their capacity to operate under load from hot and high airfields, these robust and comfortable turboprops are ideally suited to Air Botswana’s domestic routes and operating conditions.

The longer routes are operated by two Avro RJ85 and one British Aerospace BAe146 jet aircraft.

The airline operates a number of domestic routes, linking Gaborone with Francistown, Botswana’s second city, and with Maun, on the edge of the great Okavango Delta, and Kasane, gateway to Chobe River and National Park on the northern border with Namibia.

Regional destinations include flights to Johannesburg, Harare and Lusaka, and initiatives are being developed independently and with other carriers to extend the route network to more African destinations. Air Botswana’s goal in the longer term is to fly long haul to Europe and Asia.

In October last year, it was announced that Air Botswana was to commence twice daily flights between Gaborone and Lanseria (in Gauteng). The airline also introduced services on five other routes including Gaborone to Cape Town, Gaborone to Lilongwe, Gaborone to Blantyre (via Harare), Gaborone to Nairobi (via Harare) and Maun to Victoria Falls.

Commenting on the link to Lanseria International Airport, Air Botswana Sales Manager – RSA Charmain Lemkus said that the decision to operate out of Lanseria was both operational and commercial: “Lanseria’s proximity to the business and shopping centres located in Sandton and surrounds played a role in our decision. Lanseria International Airport is also easily accessed from the West Rand, Pretoria and on no toll roads,” Lemkus stated.

Demographically, business and leisure travelers play a key role in the creation of flight timetables, with tourism considered the second largest source of revenue for Botswana.

Tourists arriving in Johannesburg on long-haul flights transfer smoothly to Air Botswana for their onward connections direct to the Okavango, the largest inland delta on earth, or direct to Kasane if they are bound for Chobe National Park, one of the most prolific wildlife areas in Africa.

Botswana’s continued development and economic growth is very much laid out in its Vision 2016 blueprint.

With this plan in mind, Botswana is energetically upgrading its aviation capacity, under the wing of the Civil Aviation Authority of Botswana and with the full backing of Government.

A spacious new terminal and runway extensions at Sir Seretse Khama International Airport firmly reinforces Gaborone’s position as an important regional aviation hub. An all-new airport at Francistown, and airport developments at Maun and Kasane will enable these centres to receive larger aircraft and handle more passengers.

For its part, Air Botswana is committed to continuing to provide world-class services to domestic travellers and to visitors and has high hopes to increase passenger volumes and revenue during 2013.