Frequent fliers based in Malawi’s commercial and industrial capital Blantyre will no longer have to endure the hassles of several flight connections when travelling to various destinations across the world.
This follows an anticipated commencement of three weekly flights by one of Africa’s fastest growing airlines, Ethiopian Airlines.
Currently, apart from Air Malawi and South African Airways (SAA), all other major flights only fly to Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) in the administrative capital Lilongwe.
Ethiopian Airlines Chief Executive Officer, Tewolde Gebremariam, said starting March 31st this year, his company would start flying direct to Blantyre in an effort to offer passengers an easy connectivity to other parts of the world through Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa.
Blantyre-Chileka International airport
Bole International Airport, just like Jomo Kenyatta (Nairobi, Kenya) and OR Tambo (Johannesburg, RSA), is one of the key flights’ connection hubs for passengers flying from Malawi to other parts of the world such as Europe, America, Asia, North and West Africa.
“Ethiopian, as a flagship carrier of Africa, is pleased to add Blantyre [Chileka International Airport] to its wide route network and to offer passengers to and from the city the best possible connectivity through its Addis Ababa hub,” Gebremariam said in a statement.
The CEO said passengers to and from Chileka will enjoy free connections to destinations in the Ethiopian route network such as London, Hong Kong, Dubai, Washington D.C and Toronto.
Chileka will be Ethiopian Airlines’ 44th destination in Africa and the second in Malawi after Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe.
Ethiopian Airlines, one of Africa’s three biggest airlines (others being SAA and Kenya Airways- KQ), have at least daily flight between Lilongwe and Addis Ababa.
However, while the development has come as a relief to most Blantyre fliers other commentators feel the airline’s move is an attempt to entice the Malawi Government to offer the company the 49 percent stake in the newly created Air Malawi (2012) Limited.
Government announced last year it had embarked on a restructuring process of the then Air Malawi Limited through the Privatization Commission (PC) by engaging a strategic equity partner to recapitalize the airline which had not been performing to standards.
And Ethiopian Airlines, the Air Transport Quarterly Magazine’s 2012 African Airline of the Year winners, is one of the five selected companies planning to buy a stake in the struggling national airliner.
The four other listed bidders, selected by the PC are Globe Business Network of Botswana, Fly Africa of South Africa, Air Express Limited of Malawi and Alpha and Omega/Abrina of South Africa.
“It’s a good development, Blantyre residents have suffered a lot when ever flying because sometimes they are forced to connect twice before arriving in Addis Ababa.
“However, on the other side I look at it as a strategy to lure our government to offer them the 49 percent stake in Air Malawi. They have been operating in Malawi for many years and why all of a sudden they now want to be flying direct to Blantyre,” questioned Mark Hara, a Blantyre based economic reviewer and business consultant.
A member of a leading global airline network, Star Alliance network, the Ethiopian Airlines currently provides air services to about 70 international destinations spanning the world’s four continents.
And its CEO said recently Ethiopian would want to help Air Malawi because “they are our African brothers and we want to share our experience.”
But looking at its track record and experience, the airline has an upper hand to partner Malawi Government to effectively breathe new life into Air Malawi, proudly called Africa’s friendly airline.
Air Malawi currently flies only one aircraft down from about five planes which were either disposed or detained by creditors in the last few years.