AIRLINES provide a mass and quick transport system between countries and cities under a safe, standardised and economical conditions.
Proflight Air Services established in 1991 by Zambia Airways’ former pilot, Tony Irwin, is one of the longest servicing domestic airline operating chartered and scheduled flights within Zambia.
We look at the local private airline and how it has positioned itself to benefit from the UNWTO to be held in Livingstone this August.
We talk to the airline’s chief executive officer Captain Phil Lemba and the commercial director Keira Irwin
Q: Proflight is one of the longest serving private airlines in Zambia. what has kept you afloat?
A: Good people and careful growth, which calls for dynamic, dedicated and direct involvement in the daily operations of the company. We currently fly into Lusaka, Mfuwe Livingstone, Ndola, Solwezi, Chipata, Mansa, Kasama, and Lower Zambezi.
Q: The travel industry requires an efficient infrastructure to spur your mobility to various tourist destinations. What is your comment on the status of airport infrastructure in the country?
A: We welcome National Airports’ Corporation Limited (NACL)’s plans to provide a new international terminal at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport but aviation infrastructure needs serious rehabilitation. Ndola is extremely poor to be an international gateway. Mansa, Kasama, Chipata and Mongu all need rehabilitation. Presently, the airports we fly to are satisfactory but more needs to be done.
NACL is aware of what is needed and are rectifying the issues. For example, the planned improvement of Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport and the upgrade of Harry Mwaanga-Nkumbula International Airport.
Although Kasama is one of the oldest airports in Zambia, it is still a gravel strip and needs to be tarred. Mongu has a very good runway but the terminal building is in urgent need of attention.
Q: What is your comment on rehabilitation works at the Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International Airport in Livingstone?
A: We welcome this as it will improve capacity. The new facility will be for international and the existing terminal will be solely used for domestic and VIP passengers.
It will minimise the inconveniences of queuing and using a small area for all domestic and international flights. Now, focus must move to the rest of the airports in the country. The development will contribute positively especially to Zambian’s tourism.
Q: Considering that Livingstone is one of your major destinations, what programmes have you put in place to fully benefit from the UNWTO summit to be held in the tourist capital city?
A: We recognised that there is going to be increased frequency of people coming through Zambia to Livingstone. In response to that, we are acquiring a 737 aircraft, which take-up 120 passengers. Currently, our largest aircraft only takes 30 passengers. We will increase capacity significantly by 90 seats to accommodate the demand that the UNWTO will bring to the country.
We are looking at bringing the aircraft this May, and deploy it on domestic routes leading to the UNWTO. We feel that the summit will provide us the numbers we require for capacity of its size. During UNWTO, this aircraft will be used with increased frequently on the Livingstone route daily.
Q: The country has seen stagnation in the growth of the airline industry. What are the challenges faced?
A: We disagree that the Zambian aviation has stagnated. Proflight has experienced growth of 10 percent over the last three years. However, there are many challenges facing the aviation industry such as the lack of a long-term aviation policy, the high national airports fees and poor air navigation facilities. Zambia has a lot of international gateways, which is a stumbling block for domestic travel. To grow the domestic travel both for business and tourism, you need volume, without this you cannot make travel affordable. It is difficult to grow domestic aviation with the large number of international gateways we allow. For example, Ndola has South African Airways, South African Airlink, Inter Air, Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines all flying in. If Ndola was not a gateway these people would have to use Lusaka and then fly on the domestic airline to Ndola. This increased traffic would allow us to deploy larger aircraft and this reduces unit costs for domestic travellers. Last year, Proflight flew 104,000 domestic travellers.
Q: How best can these challenges be addressed?
A: We need a long-term aviation plan. With this we are confident that the private sector can perform and limiting the number of gateways where foreign carriers fly. Kenya has a domestic market of three million passengers a year and has only two gateways, Nairobi and Mombasa. Zambia has expensive internal flights with only 100,000 domestic passengers and three gateways. For example, in February 2012, Emirates Airline came into Zambia, which was good for the country and Proflight. The airline experienced 14 percent growth in Livingstone last year, mainly due to increased international passengers flying into Lusaka with the arrival of Emirates, KLM and Precision Air. As a result, more passengers are using Lusaka as a hub for Livingstone. We are stimulating domestic tourism with our citizen fares, these are more than 50 percent lower than our normal fares and have been well received. A number of hotels have also jumped on the bandwagon with selling citizen specials using these fares and we welcome this support.
Q: Recently, Proflight announced the introduction of international routes in the region, with Harare being the first destination. What is the latest?
Proflight intended to start flying to Harare in December 2012 after being issued with an Air Operators’ certificate on 26th October. We have decided not to start operating to Harare due to the fact that Emirates Airlines and Ethiopian Airlines both have fifth freedom rights which allow them to operate between Lusaka and Harare. We do not feel as a small Zambian operator that we can go up against these international airlines and continue to survive so we have decided not to commence flights to Harare. We are, however, looking to start international flights to Lilongwe in mid-April and Lubumbashi [Democratic Republic of Congo] pending relevant approval. We will open the routes with a J41 aircraft with the intention of expanding to the 737 fleet.
Q: What is the future of the airline industry and tourism in Zambia following the successful hosting of the UNWTO summit?
The summit should bring a lot of positive exposure for Zambia and put the country on the world map for both businesses and tourism.
This will be a significant milestone for Zambia’s tourism and if we can get the volumes out of that, we will see significant increase in the number of tourists flow. A lot of people out there are so ignorant about Zambia and the summit will be an eye-opener to many visitors. We have a strong growing economy and this requires efficient air transport so our business and mining routes will grow at the same rate as the economy. The airline industry is driven primarily by business activity. For international tourism to grow in Zambia, we need better infrastructure, for example, all-weather roads in the national parks. Proflight experienced zero-growth on Mfuwe last year and we feel this is because most lodges are full during the dry season and have very few guests in the rainy season.
Proflight feels that domestic tourism has much potential as the economy grows and people have more disposable income with imaginative pricing and packing by all transport operators and hotels and lodges. This market can be stimulated further.
We would urge NACL to reduce departure fees for domestic travel. The current fee of KR58 (K58, 000) means KR116 (K116, 000) for a domestic round trip. For a family of four this means KR464, it is our belief that a reduction in these fees would further boost domestic tourism and together we can make it more affordable.
Q: What promotional activities have you put in place to benefit from the UNWTO summit?
A: We work closely with the local travel agents and the international in-bound tour operators from the United Kingdom, Europe [other countries], United States of America, Australia and South Africa. We also do a lot of joint marketing with local hotels and lodges. Annually, we attend to two travel shows, also work with the Zambia Tourist Board.
Q: What are the prospects of Proflight Zambia going forward after the summit?
A: We are hoping the 737 will be successful [and] we want to expand regionally, improve domestic travel and offer world-class standards you can get within the country. We want to offer same fare structure, baggage allowance and customer service that travelling public needs but has to be done gradually.Thank you