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Sunday, 3 August 2014

Bye, Bye Zambia!

KLM is pulling out of Zambia effective 29 October 2014 in a move described by the Zambia Tourism Board (ZTB) as "devastating and bad for tourism in Zambia". According to a KLM statement :
The recent optimisations in the airline’s network portfolio in East Africa means connections to Europe and the United States [will be] in combination with KLM’s strategic and long-term partner Kenya Airways via Nairobi. From Nairobi, passengers can choose from services to London Heathrow, Amsterdam Schiphol and Paris Charles de Gaulle in Kenya Airways’ newest equipment including the Dreamliner and with KLM’s recently updated World Business Class.
The Ministry of Transport has allegedly summoned KLM to explain its reasons. But surely the reasons are obvious! To put it in plain english. KLM is stopping the direct routes to Lusaka and Harare because Kenya Airways has been losing passengers via the Nairobi route. So the decision has been largely taken to preserve Nairobi as a regional airport hub. The KLM official position is that flying to Zambia is costly because the passenger mix is not optimal for their fleet (i.e. not enough in first class). But the truth is more likely that "hub" considerations are the main reason. In other words it is partly political.

The bottom line is that Zambia no longer has a direct link to the European Union. People will have to go through South Africa or Nairobi or Addis Ababa. It may be time for Government to approach British Airways and reach a new deal with them that gives BA more preferential access. They could also explore engaging Richard Branson's Virgin Airlines. We also need to look at cost of jet fuel.

A Zambian airline is not the solution to this problem because Zambian carriers are banned from Europe. In any case it will take time to achieve a safe and well run airline. And securing new slots at Heathrow, Gatwick or Schipol will be challenging. But a partnership with Virgin or another foreign airline may do it.

The question is whether this issue is a priority at all. Some may argue we have bigger problems to worry about.

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