- Hopes have been dashed of Malawi boasting a second airline when Nyasa Express, the country's sole private commercial airline, is being forced to make a decision to close all its aviation operations as soon as the end of April 2006 because the Malawian government has restricted its operations to unprofitable routes in the domestic market, the company's top official has said.
Nyasa Express Managing Director, Rob McConaghy speaking in an interview, said operations of the commercial airline will cease at the end of April and blamed Malawi's Ministry of Transport and Public Works for denying them an appropriate Air Service Permit.
"Regrettably we have to close down," said Mr McConaghy explaining: "The Ministry have unfortunately responded to our application to begin scheduled air services from Kamuzu International Airport [in Lilongwe] by issuing a permit which would largely restrict our operations to the domestic market. With this restriction we cannot hope to break through."
He said it was sad that Nyasa Express, with an initial staff of 16 and has already spent Malawi kwacha 39.6 million (US$ 300,000) on operations, was using a charter licence which restricts operations to domestic routes forcing the airline to spend kwacha 23.7 million a month on additional costs.
Mr McConaghy further said that Nyasa Express had hoped to fill gaps in the existing Southern African regional network by offering scheduled services designed to meet the needs of both leisure and corporate travellers. He said careful route planning could have linked the regions fastest growing tourism areas from Zambia's Luangwa Valley to the Quirimbas Archipelago in Pemba, Mozambique, using Nyasa Express aircraft through their base in Lilongwe, the Malawian capital.
He said the concept of linking these key tourism areas with Malawi's major attractions - including Lake Malawi - could have had massive benefits for the development of tourism in the region and was well received by major tour operators promoting travel to Africa from the Europe and North American markets. "Financial feasibility studies have indicated that, for our operation to sustain itself and meet market demands for air travel, we would need to be allowed to operate both domestic and international services."
"Regrettably the Ministry of Transport have opted to restrict routes Nyasa could operate on and as such, we have no alternative but to close the entire project and release our aircraft to other regional markets," said the managing director.
"We are obviously concerned that our proposed operation has not been well received by government and we had hoped that air links to areas such as Mzuzu, Likoma Island, Club Makokola [all in Malawi], Harare [Zimbabwe], Tete, Pemba [both Mozambique] and Mfuwe [Zambia] would have been viewed as a positive contribution to the growth of the aviation sector. As a private sector initiative, we had anticipated a greater level of support from government to establish a second commercial airline complimenting the services of the national carrier," he said.
Mr McConaghy added that Nyasa Express would have ensured that alternative arrangements would be made to accommodate passengers holding confirmed reservations on charter flights at their expense.
Some people claimed that Air Malawi would never let Nyasa start because the national airliner sits on the DCA, a board which grants licences to commercial airlines. But Air Malawi Chairperson Jimmy Koreia Mpatsa has refuted this, saying the national airliner has no say in the granting of air licences in the country.
Minister of Transport and Public Works Henry Mussa said there were reasons for the government's refusal to grant Nyasa Express the international permits. "The problem is that Nyasa Express is overstretching the world. They are classifying Club Mack in Mangochi, Mzuzu, Salima and others as international airports. But these places are dangerous," said the Minister.
Minister Mussa, however gave some hope when he said the airline should make an appeal against the decision by his ministry to himself as Minister or directly to Malawi's State President, Bingu wa Mutharika.
"Let them challenge the decision to me or even the President himself. Tell them to contact me please. This is an issue we can discuss. Malawi is very committed to opening its skies. You can fly anywhere you want provided you are complying with international standards," he said. But Mr McConaghy said Minister Mussa's gesture has come too late and the company is now winding up.
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