Lack of competition in the domestic airline industry has pushed up air fares to prohibitive levels between Lilongwe and Blantyre, a development businesses argue is counterproductive.
Unlike other countries in the region, Malawi does not have a low-cost airline as FastJet, which used to operate between Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Lilongwe, winged out of the Malawi market two years ago when it was set to introduce its flights between Lilongwe and Blantyre.
Government was unwilling to grant the airline cabotage rights—and the right to operate within a particular territory—between Blantyre and Lilongwe.
For instance, customers have to part with $132 (about K96 000), which sometimes go up to $210 (K154 000) for a return air ticket between Blantyre and Lilongwe, where as in Tanzania, a similar distance costs between $30 (K22 000) and $70 (K52 000).
Ministry of Transport and Public Works spokesperson James Chakwera said in an interview on Monday that government’s doors are open to all airline operators wanting to register and operate in Malawi provided they follow proper procedures.
He said: “Indeed there is no competition in the domestic airline industry in Malawi as we only have one domestic airline operator.
“But it must be understood that this also depends on the muscle of the airline operator and the market they are serving thus if the market is vast, prices are likely to be lower.”
However, he said issues to do with domestic market are only served by a domestic airline; hence, aspiring airline operators need to establish a company in Malawi to offer domestic services.
The local market is served by Malawian Airlines Limited, a joint venture between Ethiopian Airlines and the Malawi Government, which flies between the two cities.
A Blantyre-based businessperson, Lekani Makoti, in an interview on Tuesday, said he could not hide his frustration on the high costs of domestic air travel in Malawi.
He said: “The cost of air travel between Blantyre and Lilongwe is just out of this world. In an economy like Malawi, how can one pay more than K150 000 for a 30 minute journey?
Malawi Airlines Limited commercial director Eskinder Alemu said on Monday several issues determine air travel fares, some of which include operating costs and fuel prices, which vary from country to country.