Unlike birds that flap their wings to fly, airplanes do not. They fly all the same; efficiently too. Not many people wonder why this is so, or even how aeroplanes manage to fly anyway.
Nature dictates that to fly, wings have to be flapped, as is done when swimming in water. The atmosphere has air which acts like a vast ocean of water and therefore, it would make sense if the plane could “swim” too like birds. But nay, this isnâ€™t so.
Such is the mystery surrounding aeroplanes to the majority of people who have not been schooled in matters of flight. As such, we cannot expect such people to understand aeroplanes, let alone aviation at large. Therefore, to entrust such people to run an aviation business such as Air Malawi is to subject the enterprise to the threats of collapse. No wonder our beloved friendly airline is swimming in a sea of never-ending financial problems.
Simply put, the aviation business is too technical for the ordinary business mind. It is not the same as running a bakery or any other business. All cash-flow projections in the business of flying, especially scheduled flights, can easily crumble due to a single and simple incident. An oil pressure gauge misreading can cause the captain to abandon the flight in the interest of safety. Yet, that simple act of logic can wipe off the profit margin entirely of that flight through the provision of food, transport and accommodation of the stranded passengers.
No amount of contingency provisions can cover such unpredictable circumstances. The unfair maintenance cycles of aeroplanes adds more injuries to the business. The rules provide that at specific periods, the plane must be subjected to rigorous maintenance work, whether it has flown or not.
Other hidden costs include the non-standardised navigation fees, landing fees, parking fees and the list goes on. Different countries and airports charge these as and when they want. So you land at an airport away from home-base, only to be presented with a new and higher bill than what you paid a few days before.
They may not allow you to take off if you are not able to cover the fees you did not plan for. This eats into your cash flow again and again. Thankfully, major disasters like serious accidents or a strike by staff are rare. If and when they happen, the financial mess is indescribable. In short, the business operates on this profit margin, albeit the figures sound huge. This is why even big airlines are constantly faced with mergers, bankruptcies, foreclosures and take-overs.
It is, therefore, not right to look at a national airline as a money spinner. National flag carriers must be applauded when they cover their costs only. But to expect it to also cover national budgetary shortfalls is being unrealistic.
So, save Air Malawi. It is our national pride that has stood the test of time and stands out beautifully even among other aeroplanes parked at any airport. As you wait for an Air Malawi plane to arrive at Dar-es-Salaam, Jomo Kenyatta or even the O.R. Tambo airport, the sight of an Air Malawi flight arriving brings a warm feeling of splendour as it lands.
Its logo alone is very attractive and distinct. Some airlines have tried to copy its colours but alas, they ended up with very untidy artworkâ€”not attractive at all. I am sure many Malawians who have experienced what I am talking about will agree with me.
Air Malawi (QM) has done very well over the years. Their safety record is excellent, everything else considered. Certain national assets just have to be there whether they are profitable or not. Think of a national army. It is not a profit generating institution; yet it is a must to keep and look after perpetually. No nation can do without its own army. At least our enforcement agency, the police, do generate some income for the nation.
Therefore, if Air Malawi can work towards covering its costs, it must be allowed to stay. If there should be some profit made, then well and good, consider it a bonus! All that Air Malawi needs is a streamlined operation, with a few dedicated professionals free from interference by officials who never wonder why aeroplanes do not flap their wings to fly.
â€”The author is chief flying instructor/examiner, former CEO of Air Charters Ltd, and a recipient of ICAO (UN) medal of honour.