Zambia to revamp flagging aviation industry

Zambia’s national airline disbanded several years ago and now there is talk of its return by 2016. Officials say they are planning to revive the once lucrative aviation industry. Flying students like Chisomo Daka, a young pilot say they are hoping a new national carrier will offer them the chance to build careers as aviators.

LUSAKA, ZAMBIA (RECENT) (REUTERS) – Zambia’s government is looking to revive a once vibrant aviation sector as it prepares to re-establish a national airline.

Over the last 20 years, airlines like Kenya Airways, South African Airways and smaller operators like Fastjet have dominated Zambia’s skies.

Zambia had two main airlines at different periods. Founded in 1964, Zambia airways operated a fleet of over 20 aircrafts with direct flights to New York, Rome and other major cities. For a time, it was one of biggest airlines in the region. The company, which was initially state-owned, went into liquidation in 1994.

A few years later, Zambian Airways, a privately owned company emerged as the leading national airline. But in 2009, it suspended operations citing high fuel costs and the need to restructure its operations.

Officials say the government is now ready to invest in aviation. Zambia plans to unveil its new airline in 2016.

Yamfwa Mukanga is the Minister of Transport.

“We have contacted a number of people, a number of companies, a number of airlines that are doing fine to come on board. We have also contacted the manufacturers of aircrafts, like, you know we’ve discussed with Boeing. Beoing came and made a presentation, so that we may appreciate how expensive or how cheap the planes are, and also we contacted Airbus. Airbus did the same, to take us through, so that we know what it takes to create a national airline,” he said.

Across from the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport is the Zambia Air Services Training Institute or ZASTI. Now, 40 years old, the school trains pilots and other aviation professionals.

Today, flying student, Chisomo Daka is preparing to take off in the only surviving cessna aircraft at ZASTI. She was inspired to learn to fly by Amelia Earhart, an American female aviator who was the first person to conduct a solo flight across the Atlantic in 1932.

“I decided to do aviation when I saw Amelia Earhart’s documentary where she was flying. I was inspired and I wanted to do the same thing, so I decided to pursue my flying career at ZASTI,” Chisomo said.

Chisomo is currently working towards a private pilot qualification. Her dream, however, is to earn a commercial pilot license which would allow to fly for a future Zambia national carrier. There are only a handful of female pilots in the country.

“When I proceed to complete my commercial pilot training, I am going to come back and join the national airline when it does come and aim to be the best female pilot in this country, although they are already there, I want to be one of the best, knowing that this airline, or this aviation business is male dominated, and I would like to beat the men and do good or be better than them or prove to them that women can do it also,” she added.

But according to ZASTI principal, Billiard Shingalili, the institution is struggling without enough aircrafts and teachers and cannot offer a commercial pilot’s license.

“The flying school is supposed to train at commercial pilot licensing level, that is with the number of aircraft that are required for that kind of a course, that is eight aircraft, at least four singles, at least two intermediate trainers and two advanced trainers. Currently, we have only one unfortunately,” he said.

Government officials say a national carrier will also help to boost other sectors like tourism and improve Zambia’s economy. Africa’s second biggest copper producer has recently suffered from crippling power shortages and reduced exports due to lower metal prices on the global market.

Critics, however, caution that it will take more than optimistic promises to restore the fortunes of the country’s airline and get the aviation industry up and running again.