Air Botswana is separating from its ground-handling operations and establishing a wholly-owned company where affected staff will be re-employed, as a way of returning to profitability by refocusing on core operations.
The airline’s chairman, Tebogo Masire told journalists earlier that ground-handling staff comprised “up to two thirds” of Air Botswana’s 450 employees, but were not core to the business.
The parastatal plans to trim down from 450 to 210 employees, with the majority of departures headed to the new subsidiary, while a “minimal” number will face the retrenchment axe.
The airline retrenched in 2016 and 2017, while also getting rid of the old planes and refleeting, in the hopes of returning to profitability.
“We thought buying new air craft and cutting some of the jobs would do the trick but it has not,” he said.
“We have three aircraft and 450 staff so we have not scratched the surface.
“That is more than 100 staff per craft yet other airlines in our league are at about 70.
"Air Botswana must be lean and mean if it is to make money and non-core activities are distracting the core business.”
Air Botswana general manager, Agnes Khunwana said the ground-handling unit, which will be open to private sector investment, has already secured business from Qatar Airlines, which is set to start operating flights locally next month.
“This is about a commitment to be more focussed on our core business. The ground-handling company will compete for the ground business, which is a liberalised sector.
“At the moment, it is not working for us to keep it as a division.
“We are finding it unsustainable to keep offering ground handling in-house as a division within Air Botswana,” she said.
Air Botswana’s troubles have been compounded by the erosion of government recurrent budget support, Masire said.
“Government said they are out of subventions and that is proving very difficult for us at a time when we are inducting our aircraft and getting used to feeding ourselves,” Masire said.
Air Botswana has experienced running losses since 2008, due to an aging fleet, high maintenance costs, equipment failure, route redundancy and pressure from competition.