AVIATION

Zambia 2017 | TRANSPORT | B2B

Zambia is making calculated moves to boost its aviation sector, both internationally and domestically; these companies are leading the charge.

Jonathan Lewis
JONATHAN LEWIS
Managing Director
Nac2000
Joseph Whittall
JOSEPH WHITTALL
CEO
Royal Air Charters

How have your operations developed in line with transformations in the industry?

Jonathan Lewis Largely, our business model has remained the same, though some of our services have become more popular. Our main business is loading and offloading cargo from aircraft, and most of our revenue comes from this part of the business, though in 2016 we saw a marked decline in imports and exports that we are currently still experiencing. Nac2000, by the nature of its operations, is highly sensitive to any changes in the economy. As soon as people stop importing, there is an almost immediate impact on our business. Having said that, currently we are optimistic about possible growth in agricultural exports and have subsequently invested a lot of time, money, and effort in the last five-10 years.

Joseph Whittall Rather unconventionally, we first bought the aircraft before looking for the business. Our initial focus was on the charter process rather than seat rate schedules, and this had a direct impact on our business growth. After purchasing the aircraft we pursued routes that were more likely to use those aircraft. The mining industry is our largest client, which is odd perhaps as we initially targeted the tourism sector. It is perhaps indicative of the extent of Zambia's current reliance on the mining sector. We are in the process of trying to reposition our business to become more tourism focused, and we expect to diversify more over the next six months or so.

How positive are you about the planned expansions in the aviation sector, and the impact these can have on tourism in Zambia?

JL From an aviation perspective, Zambia is geographically blessed. Lusaka is just two hours from 15 different capital cities; hence, the potential for inbound and outbound travel is huge. The investments in aviation here are pushing us closer and closer to realizing this potential. We hope that there will be growth across the board in order to support and feed into this kind of investment. We do not want the developed airport to become a white elephant. Another concern is that we are spending USD1 billion on airport infrastructure, but failing to invest in human capacity and training. With the expansion plans, we might need a workforce of roughly 1,000 people; however, I am not aware of any programs that are available right now to train people to run those facilities when they are ready.

What are the main challenges facing Zambia's aviation and transport sectors?

JW We realize that the problems with transport in Zambia, which in turn influence the tourism sector, are not domestic, but international. We have to solve the issue of getting people here cost effectively and directly. The loss of British Airways had an impact on that process. Currently, only Emirates flies directly to Zambia, which has an impact on international tourists arrivals. Furthermore, the Zambian aviation sector has been plagued by low volumes as we have tended to pursue the high-value, low-volume tourism. It is evident that backpackers today are the luxury travelers of tomorrow, and it is thus vital to attract the lower end, and likely return, customers. Aviation, however, requires higher seat occupancies to make it viable. That said, the flights are the enabler, and without flights we will never be able to build up the numbers in the first place. We are looking at working with a number of international carriers on a partnership arrangement that could assist this situation.

How volatile are current volumes of imports and exports?

JL Extremely. Sometimes our total volume received per week can be 80 tons; sometimes we receive 747s full of cargo—roughly 60 tons—in one day. This volatility is also compounded by some of the carriers having their own network issues as well. There are airlines that do not operate to schedule, and also airlines whose schedules are cut overnight or last minute

What are your most popular destinations?

JW We have daily flights to Solwezi and to Kalumbila, and our sister company, the Royal Zambezi Lodge, charters us on a weekly basis to Livingstone to pick up clients there. We are expanding our services for Royal Zambezi guests, since we believe a strong collaboration can come of this.