Malawi: Suspension of Flights By SAA Has Economic Implications for Malawi--Chief Economist Chifipa Mhango

23 November 2023

Malawi needs South African Airways (SAA) and so does the airline need Malawi, says Chief Economist for Don Consultancy Group, Chifipa Mhango following the the airline's suspension of flights to the Warm Heart of Africa.

In its public notice issued on Thursday, SAA attributed the suspension of their service to Lilongwe and Blantyre to the recent economic challenges in Malawi following the evaluation of the Kwacha by 44%.

The statement said the airline had indicated in an industry alert last week that it was monitoring closely the situation of substantial devaluation of the Kwacha, acute foreign currency shortages and the escalation of blocked funds, that has led it to make the difficult decision to cancel its route to Malawi with effect from Thursday, November 30.

The airline's chief executive officer, John Lamola is quoted in the public notice as saying their decision to cancel the route "is a carefully considered risk management intervention in response to Malawi's current economic challenges".

"This move should not be interpreted as a step back from the airline's commitment to serving the people of Malawi and promoting trade links between South Africa and Malawi.

"As the new leadership of SAA -- and as a small but growing airline -- we cannot commit to routes that are not financially sustainable. SAA values its relationship with the Malawian market and thanks its customers for their understanding and continued support during these challenging times.

"We will continue to closely monitor the situation [and] we remain open to resuming the route to Malawi as soon as the situation warrants the substance of financially efficient operations from this route," Lamola is quoted as saying.

The airline apologises "for any inconvenience this may cause and thanks its customers for their understanding and continued support during these challenging times".

And in his reaction, Mhango -- who personally supported Malawi High Commissioner to South Africa, Stella Ndau to convince SAA to resume operations into Malawi after a long period of absence, says "this suspension has economic implications for the country and above all, may tarnish the image of the country as an investment destination".

"It is sad and disheartening that at the time Malawi is targeting the much needed tourism into the country but also expanding trade links that SAA has taken a decision to suspend operations into Malawi.

"We do understand the position SAA has taken under the challenges Malawi is facing economically, as outlined in forex challenges among others, however, we have other airlines operating into Malawi despite the same economic environment.

"My take would have been for SAA to consider a different strategic approach, with maybe reducing number of flights, considering that this drastic approach to suspend all operations -- especially as we head to the December festive holiday season has negative implications for the tourism sector.

"On this point. I would therefore, advise the Malawi Government, through its High Commissioner and supported by the responsible Minister, to engage SAA on the matter urgently and assure the airline on how the Malawi economy will be stabilized, with time frames."

In March this year, when SAA announced resumption of flights to Malawi, it reported that the decision was made after a series of negotiations between the SAA CEO, Lamola and Malawi High Commissioner, Stella Ndau in Pretoria.

This also followed SAA's restructuring of its business and also championing African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCTA) within Southern Africa.

A report by quoted High Commissioner Ndau as saying Malawi will benefit hugely from the opening of the route, as this will contribute to the tourism and transport sectors.

She further said Malawi is one of the most value-for-money holiday destinations in Southern Africa, and will aid Lilongwe in terms of economic recovery.

In marketing Malawi, SAA marketed Malawi's tourism potential, saying: "Blantyre is the country's second-largest city and commercial capital. At the same time, Lilongwe is the political capital and is closer to Lake Malawi, the country's biggest tourist attraction and covers a fifth of the country.

"Leisure activities at the lake include boating, snorkelling, diving, kayaking, and many other water activities. Lake Malawi National Park is listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site due to its unique species.

"Mulanje Mountain is another attraction in the small central African state that visitors can explore. It is a large massif in southern Malawi, 3,000m high, formed by magma intrusion into the Earth's crust 130 million years ago.

"The first European to report the massif was David Livingstone in 1859, but archaeological investigations reveal the presence of humans on the mountain in prehistoric times. For rock-climbing enthusiasts, Mulanje has the longest rock climb in Africa on the western face.

"Malawi has several national parks, the most famous being Nyika National Park, Kasungu National Park, and Liwonde National Park. Visitors can enjoy these parks' game drives, bird watching, and other wildlife activities."

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