Air Botswana’s Struggling Years in the Sky

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Photo credit: Alan Wilson
Photo credit: Alan Wilson

Botswana may not be Africa’s most popular tourist destination, but those who have been to this desertous, wildlife lush country in southern Africa know that it’s a must-visit destination. However, the country, known as one of the best places for wildlife viewing on earth, has had a difficult time creating a flag carrier that will truly take off.

Air Botswana is owned by the country’s government, and since its formative years, the airline has experienced the destruction of aircraft, failed privatisation attempts and numerous other difficulties. Despite constantly looming turmoil and frequent changes in search of profit, the airline has now spent more than 40 years in the sky.

Founded on July 2, 1972, Air Botswana was created to provide services that two previously failing airlines, Botswana Airways Corporation and Botswana National Airways, could not uphold. The airline took to the skies just two months later, on Aug. 1, 1972, with a single aircraft — a Fokker F-27 Friendship. Throughout the decade, Air Botswana acquired more aircraft and began offering domestic flight services to Maun, Francistown and Selebi-Phikwe.

Photo credit: Bob Adams
Photo credit: Bob Adams

The airline appeared to be on the rise as the Botswana Development Corporation was created in the early 1980s to acquire leased aircraft for the airline. The airline expanded routes to Manzini and Maseru and began operating cargo charters. In December of 1984, the Sir Seretse Khama International Airport opened, and Air Botswana began operating flights from the new facility. Flights expanded to reach Johannesburg, Lusaka, Francistown, Harare, Gaborone and Victoria Falls.

Botswana’s government absorbed the airline in 1988, and Air Botswana become the country’s flag carrier. More aircraft arrived the same year and new flight routes were added. Just four years later, in 1992, Air Botswana became the first airline in the country to ban smoking on all of its domestic flights. However, between the years of 1988 and 1993, the airline was unable to manage its financial losses.

An even more crippling event occurred in 1999. One of the airline’s pilots crashed an empty ATR 42 aircraft into the country’s international airport. The aircraft and two other Air Botswana aircraft were destroyed. The airline was left with just one BAe 146 aircraft, which was already out of service. Forced to lease an entire fleet of aircraft, the airline continued to struggle.

Photo credit: Bob Adams
Photo credit: Bob Adams

The privatisation process began on April 19, 2000, when the government signed a consultancy agreement with World Bank-affiliated International Finance Corporation, which saw IFC being appointed as the government’s main adviser in the privatisation process.

The government attempted to privatise the company in 2003 with Comair and Air Mauritius, but Air Mauritius withdrew from the deal, and the government suspended their search for a strategic partner. The airline lost nearly $3 million in 2006. A number of other negotiations were attempted, but none came into fruition.

In 2008, Air Botswana signed a $37 million deal for two ATR 72-500 aircraft for regional operations. The aircraft were delivered a year later and the airline announced that it would be reinstating its flights to Johannesburg, Francistown and Kasane. Several years later, in 2013, internal conflicts were on the rise over the poor management of the company. In 2015, the airline’s general manager, Ben Dahwa, and his entire board of directors were fired following allegations of corruption. As of 2016, the airline has hired General Tebogo Carter Masire, from the Botswana Defense Force, to replace Nigel Dixon-Warren as the board chairman.

The future of Air Botswana is uncertain, but the airline hopes to turn around its economical struggles, mismanagement and corruption in the coming years.

About the Author: Courtney McCaffrey

Courtney McCaffrey is a freelance writer and editor based in Wilmington, N.C. In addition to writing, she lives for travel - seeing new places, learning new cultures and surfing new waves.

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