The reported drive towards a new airline as announced by Transport Minister Yamfwa Mukanga is a totally misplaced ambition which will take money away from the poor people to finance the rich and elite Zambians.
A national airline is a luxury that this country can ill afford.
A national airline will cost money which could be better spent on projects and programmes on which more Zambians will benefit than the elite who patronise airlines. We should be spending money on oxygen plants to ensure that hospitals are well stocked.
Scarce resources will be required to purchase or hire aircraft from overseas, train technical and flying staff, create local and international hubs for the purpose of servicing and running the business and generally create afresh a new infrastructure.
This will not come cheap.
The last national airline was grounded on account of business and technical difficulties, which have not gone away they still exist. They suffered these difficulties in spite of receiving preferential treatment from the Government with exemptions from a number of requirements. This disadvantaged private operators to give the flying eagle a chance to fly.
These incentives failed to prop the airline and only managed to suffocate and truncate private initiative, which attempted to take advantage of the open air policies to enter into commercial aviations, which was heavily tilted towards the public operator.
There should be no mistake that running a national airline is an expensive affair that benefits very few members of society. If anything a national airline is a prestige project, whose value only lies in the glamour that it provides.
Our neighbours in Zimbabwe have an Airline which cost them US$188million as at last year and the costs have continued to accumulate.
Equally South African Airways, one of the largest airlines in Africa is a huge loss maker. Last year the Government issued a 5billion Rand guarantee to keep it afloat. There is no indication that it will soon recover to profitability.
Zambia has survived with a national airline thereby giving impetus to private initiative that has filled the breach. The private sector has run on the basis of profit and has thus acquired appropriate assets and equipment to suit operations whereas a national airline will invariably seek the most expensive Boeing triple seven whose cost will fall directly on the public budget.
In other words the poor people will be foregoing development in order to keep an airline flying. This is hardly the best possible use of national resources.
That is why the decision by Government to consider the establishment of a National Airline at a time when the country’s indebtedness is a matter of serious national debate raises the question of propriety and timelessness.
Let there be no doubt that once established the airline will cost money- a lot of it. The Government must therefore make a very convincing case to the public to justify such an investment.
This country had an airline which was closed down due to serious financial and business consideration. The factors that led to the closure have not gone away.