Air Malawi returned to the air on Thursday after being grounded for eight days due to the unavailability of its Boeing 737-200 and ATR 42.
Air Malawi ceased flying on November 16. In a statement the airline said its lease agreement with Bravo Capital Limited for its Boeing 737-200 had expired and that it was in the process of sourcing a better, more reliable and efficient aircraft. The Boeing’s main route was to Johannesburg.
“As such all flights to Johannesburg have temporarily been suspended for a period of two weeks. It is estimated that these flights will resume on 1st December 2011,” Air Malawi said.
The flag carrier’s only other aircraft, an ATR 42, had been undergoing maintenance, and Air Malawi said it would resume operations on November 21 for flights to Blantyre, Lilongwe, Harare, Lusaka and Dar-es-Salaam. However, that day came and went due to what Air Malawi head of marketing Tony Chimpukuso described as prolonged maintenance. The ATR 42 only resumed flights last Thursday.
“The aircraft will resume its operations today because everything is now fixed as it went through C-check maintenance for a week,” Chimpukuso said on Thursday.
“The ATR 42 did not resume its operations on Monday because there were some other prescribed jobs that were not evaluated that was why we shifted the date to Thursday because we needed more time to fix the problems,” Chimpukuso added.
Although the ATR 42 is now flying, Air Malawi’s flights to Johannesburg remain suspended “until arrangements to lease a better and more reliable aircraft have been finalised.”
Air Malawi had two Boeing 737s but these are stuck in South Africa as the airline has no money to pay the maintenance company that has taken possession of them.
Air Malawi is in dire financial straights, with some inside sources reporting its debt level at around K10 billion (US$59.8 million), according to the Nyasa Times.
Air Malawi’s chief executive officer Patrick Chilambe said that the government is restructuring the airline after it posted an after-tax loss of K1.1 billion (US$6.6 million) last year and a K1.3 billion (US$7.7 million) loss in 2009, according to the Malawi government’s Annual Economic Report for this year. Chilambe said the restructuring is being carried out by consultant Ernst & Young and will take two months.
“As you are aware, we have been going through hard times in recent years. The whole idea of the restructuring exercise is to take stock of what has happened in the past and shape a better future for the company,” Chilambe said.
Since 2000, the Malawian government has attempted on two occasions to privatise the airline. The first attempt in 2003 failed because of the successful bidder, in partnership with South African Airways, being unable to post a security bond. The second attempt in 2007 failed after disagreements over the terms with the bidder, Comair of South Africa.