Airline reflects on growth in tandem with local aviation sector
Zambia’s leading airline – Proflight Zambia – celebrates 25 years in operation this month, marking its quarter of a century in business by reflecting on the highs and lows at the heart of the nation’s air transport industry.
Proflight Zambia has not only become the largest indigenous commercial air carrier in Zambia but it is gradually spreading its wings across Southern Africa. No private airline has developed at a faster pace in Zambia’s aviation history.
The airline’s growth into a successful regional airline has not always been smooth, however.
The starting point was one five-seater Beechcraft Baron aeroplane. Today, Proflight carries over 130,000 passengers annually, with the airline operating a 50-seater Bombardier CRJ-100 jet, three 29-seater Jetstream 41 aircrafts and two 18-seater Jetstream 32s. Its nine destinations in three countries is continually expanding. Its team of skilled staff is key to its success, with 218 people employed, including 44 ground staff, 40 pilots and 19 cabin crew.
Following the liquidation of the state-owned national carrier, Zambia Airways, a young Zambian pilot, Tony Irwin, having seen an opportunity and with the foresight to identify the potential of an expanding economy, set out to transform a small family-run charter business into Proflight Air Services.
“I am so proud of what we have achieved in a quarter of a century. We started out in 1991 and now we have over 130,000 passengers a year! We could not have done this without the dedication, passion and talent of our incredible staff. We would like to thank the hundreds of thousands of passengers and every member of staff who has made Proflight Zambia what it is today,” said Managing Director Tony Irwin.
“From humble beginnings, Proflight, in tandem with Zambia, has grown to become a leading player,” he added.
Captain Phillip Lemba, Director Government and Industry Affairs said: “Our baby is 25! We are so humbled that Proflight, a proudly Zambian airline, has continued to grow and thrive. Tony and I are passionate about our country and fiercely proud of this airline which has, against all odds, with the hard work of over two hundred staff, continued to expand and succeed, serving the aviation needs of the nation.”
The meteoric rise of Proflight was not without difficulties, however. Succeeding in the aviation business in a nation whose aviation sector was still in its infancy proved to be challenging. We had a large cross-section of the population that didn’t understand or appreciate the value of air travel and its impact on passenger convenience and the national economy. Convincing people, shifting mind sets in favour of air travel and Proflight in particular, was one of the most difficult hurdles we encountered,” said Mr Irwin
Captain Philip Lemba said: “Let it be on record that we had a hard time starting out. It’s easy to focus on what we have today and where we are headed without remembering the immense pressure we faced. We were forced to close a number of our routes, we had loyal staffers left us for various reasons, and we had a population that had more faith in road travel than air travel. We had to overcome a number of difficulties to be where we are at today.”
Despite this, however, Proflight has attracted some of Zambia’s premier aviation experts who have played a significant role in the airline’s progress over the years.
Some of its top staff includes engineers, administrators and pilots who have worked in the aviation sector for over 30 years. These include the likes of Chitalu Kabalika: Chief Administration Officer and Corporation Secretary, Kenneth Silavwe: Director Safety, Security and Quality, Capt. Gerald Tembo: Chief Pilot, Capt. Ken Kabungo: Jetstream Captain and Vincent Mwaba: Quality Assurance Manager.
Proflight Zambia has grown with Zambia over the last 25 years, expanding not only its fleet, the number of destinations it serves and a variety of partnerships with international airlines, but it adapted its strategic approach to focus on Zambians as well as international visitors, meeting the needs of business people and leisure seekers in a time of a burgeoning economy.
Broadening the customer base by flying to destinations off the tourist track has been key to recent growth, with the airline contributing millions of dollars to the Zambian economy each year in terms of employment generation and savings in time for business people and connecting industry and tourism in an efficient and safe way.
“The secret to Proflight’s success lies in responding to the needs of our passengers while remaining true to our core principles of being safe, reliable, efficient and friendly. To celebrate our Silver Jubilee we are adding a ninth domestic destination, Mbala, as well as continuing our regional routes to Lilongwe and Durban. Our partnerships with airlines such as Emirates, Kenyan Airways, Ethiopian Airlines and SAA among others have allowed us to make flying internationally even easier for our customers,” said Capt Lemba.
The airline has also adapted to the rapidly changing world of communication technology, allowing customers to book flights and check in online at www.flyzambia.com. Furthermore, Proflight’s accessibility to its passengers is enhanced by its social media presence, allowing two-way communication daily with thousands of customers. Innovative payment methods include the ability to book and pay through Shoprite supermarkets countrywide, and to pay using Airtel and MTN mobile money.
The airline is under no illusions: aviation is a tough business in any market. In Africa the challenges are even harder. But with 25 years of experience, an economy growing above the global rate, and a cautious business model, the airline has succeeded where others have failed. The nagging question therefore is, “What is the plan for the next 25 years; where does Zambia’s leading domestic airline see itself in 2041?”
“Twenty-five years in this business is no joke. We are leveraging our experience and I can confidently tell you that this is just the beginning,” says Captain Lemba, “Our vision is as strong as it was in 1991. Proflight’s strength is in slow and steady growth. We are actively evaluating new routes domestically and regionally. Our goal, as ever, is to deliver excellent service to our passengers.”
From its humble beginnings 25 years ago, there is no mistaking Proflight has taken off, already travelling at jet speed, even the sky is no limit. A true testament to the airline’s tagline ‘Just Plane Smart’.
About Proflight Zambia
Proflight Zambia was established in 1991 and is Zambia’s leading scheduled airline. From its base in Lusaka its domestic routes include, Livingstone, Mfuwe, Lower Zambezi, Ndola and Solwezi, and regional routes to Lilongwe in Malawi, and Durban in South Africa.
The airline prides itself in providing a safe, reliable, efficient and friendly service, and offering good value to business and leisure travellers locally and internationally.
The airline operates a 50-seater Bombardier CRJ-100 jet, three 29-seater Jetstream 41 aircraft and two18-seater Jetstream 32.