It is now official that Ethiopian Airlines is the preferred bidder to be the strategic partner of Air Malawi (2012) Limited.
The Public Private Partnership Commission (PPPC)—formerly the Privatisation Commission (PC)—told us last Thursday that Ethiopian Airlines beat Fly Africa of South Africa and Botswana’s Global Business Network in the race.
In my view, there could not have been any better strategic partner for Air Malawi (2012) Limited than Ethiopian Airlines (ET).
ET is an airline with global experience and competitiveness; hence, in the long-term, I believe our “new” flag carrier will benefit more, especially in terms of international route linkages.
Briefly, the deal means that ET will take up a 49 percent stake in Air Malawi (2012) Limited with the Malawi Government holding 20 percent shareholding and local investors the remaining 31 or so percent.
Deals such as this one are not entirely new in the aviation industry. There was a similar deal struck between Kenya Airways and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines in December 1995 when the Kenyan Government accepted in principle to sell 26 percent of the shares in the airline.
Despite the arrangement, today, Kenya Airways (airline code KQ), founded in 1977, remains the national carrier of Kenya operating scheduled flights across Africa and to Europe and the Far East. The current shareholding structure in Kenya Airways, according to the airline’s website, is as follows: 30.94 percent individual shareholders, 26 percent Air France-KLM, the Kenyan Government holds 23 percent whereas Kenyan investors have 14.2 percent and foreign investors hold a 5.86 percent stake.
In the case of KLM and Kenya Airways, the name Kenya Airways did not die; hence, my assumption that ‘Air Malawi’ will continue gracing the skies but under new management backed by a stronger DNA of arguably Africa’s oldest airline—Ethiopian Airlines. But, even if the name “disappears”, as it were, what is in a name? Personally, I would rather have an efficient air transport system than a mere name.
For the record, Ethiopian Airlines was founded in April 1946 and is wholly owned by the Government of Ethiopia. It currently serves 70 destinations and still counting with Blantyre in Malawi and Ndola in Zambia on the cards this March. Air Malawi was established in 1964.
What the new lease of life also means is that we have failed to run our own airline. And, when all is said and done, we need, as a nation, to reflect on why Air Malawi, ‘Africa’s Friendly Airline’, has failed to survive the turbulent skies.
In my view, the mixing of business and politics is what has killed Air Malawi. The airline could have survived and be turned around if it were run like a business. It is my sincere hope that this time around, with a new partner, the airline will be run like a business and cease being a charity or some welfare organisation, so to speak. This business thinking should start with open and competitive recruitment of key staff, especially in management. There should be no political appointees.
Welcome on board Ethiopian Airlines. Indeed, welcome Air Malawi (2012) Limited as Air Malawi rests in peace.