Two years after FastJet winged out the Malawi market, Lakestar Express Limited—a Malawian-owned budget airline—has invested $7 million (about K5.1 billion) to start operating domestic flights by January.
After 10 months of operation, the airline plans to expand its footprint in the region, according to its chief executive officer Allain Chidzanja.
In January this year, the airline expressed interest to operate both domestic and international flights for passenger and cargo, and has since been issued an air service licence by the Ministry of Transport and Public Works.
The airline is expected to start with two 19-passenger Beechcraft 1900D between Lilongwe and Blantyre as well as the Northern Region.
Said Chidzanja: “In Malawi, we want to make sure that passengers can fly between Blantyre and Lilongwe and we want to revive the Northern route in Mzuzu, Karonga and Likoma as it is becoming a hot spot and this will help us revive tourism as well.
“We will start with domestic operations only for eight months and that will give us a chance to consolidate our operations as you know airline business is a little tricky.
“We will start initially with one aircraft and after four months, we will put another one. Once we have consolidated, we should be ready to go regional to Lusaka [Zambia], Johannesburg [South Africa], Harare [Zimbabwe], Nairobi [Kenya] and eastern side of Mozambique.”
He said the airline will employ Malawians, especially those offloaded at Air Malawi when it was liquidated two years ago.
Chidzanja said they plan to operate domestically for a certain period because they have been given an air service licence, “but what we need is an air operator certificate which is a better certificate although both are valid”.
In an interview, Ministry of Transport and Public Works spokesperson James Chakwera said while the licence is just a first step in the certification of an airline, its issuance means that authorities are satisfied that the applicant is an established entity with enough resources or potential to raise the necessary resources for the venture.
“On the part of the applicant, a licence gives them leverage to be able to commit resources or woo would-be investors into their venture, considering that an airline is a capital intensive undertaking.
“An air service licence was issued after they fulfilled the economic regulation requirements. They are yet to embark on the technical certification process that would enable them to get an air operators certificate to start operations,” he said.
Unlike other countries in the region, Malawi does not have a low-cost airline after Fastjet, which used to operate between Dar es Salam in Tanzania and Lilongwe, winged out of the Malawi market when it disagreed with the Civil Aviation Department on the introduction of flights between Lilongwe and Blantyre.