Presidential hopeful Professor Chirwa has a vision for Zambia in the 21st century. It includes the following:
“When I am elected, I will re-introduce Zambia Airways which was sold for no prudent reason by the prior government. Zambia Airways was not making any loses at the time of the sale...I have already initiated talks with Sir Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Airlines, in regards to forming a partnership to create a new national airline for Zambia to and bring back Zambia Airways”Presumably the Prof wants to directly challenge Zambian Airways? Instead of looking back to what Zambia Airways was, why don't we look at what Zambian Airways and others (e.g. Zambia Skyways) in a properly supported aviation sector. It strikes me that the Prof's vision is not for the 21st century. It appears to be a vision of a bygone age. Even the current government has had the sense to realise that the pursuit of a national airline with some form of tax payers money involved is not a way forward. It is backward.
As I have previously stated there's absolutely no case for a national airline. If Prof Chirwa has any vision for aviation, it should be to focus on creating an enabling environment through greater liberalisation of air travel and reducing the the cost of jet fuel.
Instead of duplicating government efforts to get Richard Branson to look at the Zambian market, the Prof should be spending time finding out why the likes of Virgin and other airlines are not looking at Zambia? The answer surely must be the problems I have mentioned above, and the poor state of our infrastructure.
Our airport infrastructure can definitely do with a lift. Especially provincial airports to enable the development of tourism. We have four international airports managed by National Airports Corporation Limited (NACL) - although with Solwezi Airport due to be built by the mines that make it five (see the post called Solwezi Model). NACL is aiming to fully commercialise its operations (the Zamtel problem) so that it could invest in more infrastructure. Provincial airports come under the Department for Civil Aviation. Encouraging private sector involvement there is critical.
The other critical infrastructure is Airport Traffic Control (ATC) infrastructure which is maintained and operated by NACL. Zambia has a civilian radar system and is limited to procedural air traffic control. Overflight incomes from ATC services are quite low, particularly given the fact that major overflight routes pass through Zambia. Furthermore it is difficult for NACL to negotiate higher fees because we lack adequate surveillance infrastructure. With increased traffic, we will need to invest in new surveillance technology. There's a role for Government to take the lead here - and look at the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) for example. I am told that this is a cheap technology, easy to maintain and suited for countries in the developing world such as ours. Tanzania has it.
We also need to invest in soft infrastructure - human capital. The Zambian Air Services Training Institute for example must be considered as critical to aviation development. I think the institute should be privatised to allow it to expand and grow. It has good staff and good students. We can become an exporter of pilots in the region if we made it private.
Now in light of all these things we can do, and should be doing, why do we keep ourselves obsessed over a lost airline? Why are we looking back and not forward? There's nothing that I find more disturbing that hearing those that want to offer an alternative vision repeat the same old failed ideologies. Atleast, I must thank Prof Chirwa for atleast articulating his vision for aviation, albeit, a flawed one. Debating ideas is a positive thing, and the Lord knows we need more of that in Zambia.