4 December 2017

Mozambique: Government Wants to Make Nacala Airport Profitable

Maputo — The Dubai-based carrier Emirates Airline has visited Nacala International Airport, in northern Mozambique, according to Transport Minister Carlos Mesquita, cited by the independent television station, STV.

The government is attempting to interest international airlines in Nacala, which is Mozambique's most modern airport, but also its least used.

It was inaugurated by the then President Armando Guebuza in 2014, but it seems that neither the government nor the airports company, ADM, had done any market research before opening the airport. From 2014 to the present, not a single international company has shown any firm interest in flying to Nacala.

The only airline using the airport is Mozambique's own carrier LAM (Mozambique Airlines). Even LAM has gradually reduced the number of flights to Nacala. There used to be five flights a week from Maputo to Nacala, but now there are only two. The only other traffic is the occasional charter flight, mostly carrying staff of the Brazilian mining company Vale, which is the majority owner of the new coal terminal at Nacala-a-Velha, from which the coal from Vale's mine at Moatize, in Tete province, in now exported.

This is a far cry from the boasts of 2014 that the airport could handle half a million passengers and 5,000 tonnes of cargo a year.

Mesquita told reporters that the government is looking for partners interested in operating Nacala airport. He stressed that the airport should be turned into a profitable concern, and said the government is considering two hypotheses (which he did not explain in any detail). He was optimistic that eventually Nacala's development potential will attract international airlines.

A major problem is that the airport may well only have been built because of a bribe. The Brazilian construction company Odebrecht has admitting to paying bribes in several countries, including Mozambique. In Mozambique the bribe was 900,000 US dollars. So far the Brazilian prosecutors investigating Odebrecht have not said which Mozambican officials received the bribe. Since Nacala airport was easily Odebrecht's largest project in Mozambique at the time, it seems reasonable to assume that the bribe was paid to facilitate its construction.

ADM has hit on an absurd way of making Nacala profitable - it wants to ban all other northern airports (such as Nampula and Pemba) from receiving international flights. However, it seems unlikely that the government will go along with this scheme.

The proposal was to reduce the number of international airports in the country to just three - Maputo in the south, Beira in the centre and Nacala in the north. Asked about this, Mesquita said the government was still studying this proposal and its likely impact on tourism, and will not take a decision this year or next year.

If tourism is the decisive factor, then the proposal will not go ahead, since two of the airports that would be closed to international traffic - Pemba and Vilanculo - have recently undergone major expansion and modernisation precisely to cater for the tourist trade.

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