Sometime in August last year, I quoted Economic Empowerment Action Group (Eeag) president Lewis Chiwalo as crying foul over fares South African Airways (SAA) was charging then on the Malawi-Johannesburg route. He described the fares as a rip off.
From a business perspective, SAA’s pricing then was only natural despite being a “rip off” as, without meaningful competition, the airline took advantage of the situation to cash in, so to speak, while reacting to market forces of demand and supply.
Having failed to keep afloat our national flag carrier, the now liquidated Air Malawi Limited, Malawians had no choice but to fly foreign airlines such as Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines and SAA. For the Malawi-Johannesburg route, though, SAA was the sole operator, landing and taking off from either Chileka Airport in Blantyre or Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe on alternate days.
In the aviation industry, competition among airlines is one of the major factors that determine pricing of air tickets. There was no competition on the South Africa route.
For example, at one point last year, SAA was charging $745 (about K318 860 at today’s exchange rate of K428/dollar) for the Jo’burg to Nairobi, Kenya route and demanding $1 350 (about K577 800) for the Jo’burg to Blantyre leg. My inquiry from a travel agent in Blantyre then found that flying on SAA from Malawi through Johannesburg to New York, returning within 30 days, would have cost me about $1 417 and to London about $1 110.
Fast forward to March 2014, SAA is busy with promotional prices, slashing the previous fares by close to half! Why? You do not need to be a market analyst to conclude that the coming in of a more reliable Malawian Airlines on the Johannesburg route is doing the trick.
For the Lilongwe-Johannesburg via Blantyre leg, Malawian Airlines, the successor of Air Malawi and a partnership between the Malawi Government (51 percent) and Ethiopian Airlines (49 percent), is charging about K262 000 (about $600) return whereas SAA has some promotional fares of as low $375 but with “terms and conditions” applying, including the fact that the fare is “exclusive of taxes”. So, your guess is as good as mine as to how much one is likely paying.
Talking about “terms and conditions”, it is also worth noting that even Malawian Airlines’ K53 000 return fare between Blantyre and Lilongwe is not the fare one pays. I understand the K53 000 is the actual domestic fare without taxes which when added requires you to pay K104 000.
Malawian Airlines was officially launched o Wednesday morning at Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe. The airline winged into the skies on January 31 this year, with a domestic inaugural flight from Lilongwe to Blantyre and thereafter introduced international flights to Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia and Tanzania with more coming, including destinations such as Beira, Tete and Maputo in Mozambique.
Malawian Airlines has two new generation aircrafts, a 154-seater Boeing 737-800 and a Bombardier Q400 with 67 seats, both of which are less than two years in operation.
Congratulations Malawian Airlines for the launch.
In one of my earlier pieces, I expressed my sincere hope that when Malawian Airlines takes off and sets a more dependable schedule, air travel between Malawi and its major regional trading partner, South Africa, will no longer be a pipe dream for many due to prohibitive fares.
True to that, today I see Malawian Airlines Limited, backed by Ethiopian Airlines, giving SAA a good run for its money on the Malawi-Johannesburg route than its forerunner, the ‘deceased’ Air Malawi currently resting in peace.