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Russian billionaire eyes Air Botswana

Staff Writer
A Russian billionaire has shown interest in buying a stake in Air Botswana, Ministry of Works and Transport spokesperson Samuel Mbaiwa has confirmed.

 "I can confirm that he is interested in investing in Air Botswana and we have invited him to come to Botswana to make his proposal to government," Mbaiwa said.

He explained that the Russian's interest has nothing to do with the ongoing management contract or privatisation of Air Botswana.

He said the Russian proposed that he could help establish a direct air link to transport tourists from Europe to Botswana.

Business Today has been reliably informed that the Russion is Alexander Lebedev, who was in 2008 listed by Forbes magazine as one of the richest Russians.  He is the 358th richest person in the world with an estimated fortune of $3.1 billion and owns Aeroflot and is part owner of Noyaya Gazeta.  He is referred to as one of the Russian tycoons and is a member of the state Duma and one of the socialist Fair Russia party leaders.

Mbaiwa stated that government will soon finalise the ongoing negotiations with Comair for a management contact to run Air Botswana.

"We are still going through due diligence to clarify certain issues. Government wishes to conclude negotiations as soon as possible."

Business Today, has however been reliably informed that the negotiations are delayed the fate of some ageing Air Botswana planes have not been decided. 

Comair, which operates British Airways and Kalula.com airliners in southern Africa was announced in June as the preferred bidder for Air Botswana's management contract.

Government short-listed six international firms to manage Air

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Botswana for a three-year period starting this year. This came after cabinet rejected a proposed merger of Air Botswana and South Africa's Airlink.

The six short-listed companies were African Airline Management CC of South Africa, Air France Consulting, Lufthansa Consulting of Germany, International Development Ireland of Ireland, Comair of South Africa and Solenta Aviation of South Africa.

In his 2008 budget, Finance Minister, Baledzi Gaolathe announced that the government had set aside P103 million to recapitalise Air Botswana.

This will cover the costs of overhauling the French-made ATR aircraft and disposal and replacement of the loss-making British-made BAE 146-100 plane; improvement of staff salaries and hiring a management contractor.

Gaolathe announced that the airline had recorded a P15 million net profit for eight months up to November 2007, as compared to a P39 million in the year to March 2007.

Meanwhile, Comair yesterday warned that earnings could drop by as much as 40 percent for the year to June, owing to turbulent industry conditions.

Airlines across the world have been facing strong headwinds caused by soaring fuel prices and lower passenger volumes.

Headline earnings a share and earnings a share will be between 30 percent and 40 percent lower for the year ended June 2008 than the previous year, JSE-listed Comair said. The company expects to publish its financial results on or about September 17.

Comair's stock has fallen from a high of R3.68 a share at the beginning of the year to about R1.65.

 



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