A Malawian Airline flight from Lilongwe to Johannesburg, South Africa yesterday departed three hours late due to power outage at Kamuzu International Airport (KIA), leading to frustration and panic among passengers.
The news of the blackout also sparked public debate on social media, with some commentators blaming government for lack of seriousness in improving service delivery.
Confirming the development, Ministry of Transport and Public Works spokesperson James Chakwera, who is also director responsible for aviation services, said the flight was delayed because the airport was without Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) power for over 12 hours—from 8pm on Thursday to around 10am yesterday—and that their standby generators had no fuel.
According to Chakwera, the generators automatically start runni8ng once there is Escom power failure.
“In recent times we are experiencing power outages and in as much as we keep fuel in our storage facilities, we ran out of fuel because of the long-hours of blackouts which have strained us of resources. We are working to normalise the situation. We hope there will be an improvement in the supply of Escom power,” he said in an interview before power had been restored.
Chakwera said the backup generators require 58 litres of diesel per hour, which has a serious financial implication. This means to run the generator for 12 hours, about 696 litres of diesel (about K690 000) is required.
Malawian Airlines public relations manager Joseph Josiah described the delay as a huge inconvenience to passengers.
Josiah said: “It’s a huge inconvenience to passengers, particularly those with onward connections out of Johannesburg. Again, it disturbs the rest of the day’s operations—our evening flights.”
Like commentators on social media, passengers equally shared their frustration as they accused the airport managers of incompetency.
One of the passengers said: “We checked in manually for lack of power. We have been waiting for over two hours now, simply because no one took responsibility to fuel the generator timely.”
The flight was scheduled to leave at 8.10am yesterday, but only left at 10.58am—two hours 48 minutes late, according to Josiah.
As KIA faces such blackouts, the Japanese handed over a $6 million solar equipment to generate a maximum of 830 kilowatts (KW) of electricity, which is enough to supply power to the airport, including nearby staff residences. Government, in 2013,
But Chakwera said the challenge, which is by design, of the solar panel is that they provide power to Escom grid and once Escom power is down, they cannot supply power on their own.
Escom public relations manager Innocent Chitosi said yesterday the problem has since been rectified.
“A few poles and cross-arms fell at Magwero. We had to reinforce our Lilongwe team with a team from Dowa to speed up the process.
“It is not a very unusual occurrence in big networks such as ours. That is why we make sure to inform our customers whenever there is such an occurrence and treat the problems with urgency,” he said.