Tourists and investors visiting landlocked Malawi had to brave long hours of travel and high costs of transportation. However, signs so far indicate that things have taken a turn and are improving.
Last week, offering more connectivity to the rest of the world, Kenya Airways launched direct flights to Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial city.
According to Kenya Airways the airline will fly from Nairobi—one of Africa’s business hub—to Blantyre, within two hours and back to Kenya on the same day.
The airline will ply three times a week—Monday, Wednesday and Friday—connecting Chileka Airport in Blantyre to Asia, Europe, America and Africa, through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi.
The launch comes after Ethiopian Airlines launched its Blantyre flights in March this year, flying three times a week—Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.
Kenya Airways chief operating officer Titus Naikuni was quoted arguing that direct flights between Kenya and Malawi’s commercial city will provide a connection for Blantyre to key markets such as Europe, Far East and Middle East, which will translate into huge economic benefits to Malawi and enable economic growth and development.
And the airlines chief operations manager Mbuvi Nguze was optimistic of the viability of the flights.
Speaking after the maiden flight in Blantyre, he expressed optimism on the size of traffic arguing it will improve based on ripple effects.
“We are happy with the level of traffic that we have and we expect to increase and create new flows. We are optimistic of ripple effects on this route and we are confident that we will generate more and more traffic,” said Nguze.
In April, Malawi Government granted approval for Kenya Airways to operate flights into Blantyre, besides agreeing to resumption of the 5th Freedom Traffic Rights which allows Kenya Airways to pick up passengers in Lusaka and drop them in Lilongwe and vice versa on the Lilongwe-Lusaka sector.
Speaking at the launch of the flights at Chileka Airport, Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Development, Mohammad Sidik Mia, said the new flights will bring convenient travel options to Blantyre and surrounding areas and will spur tourism and economic development.
“The direct flights will enable passengers including tourists to conveniently travel to areas around Blantyre. Direct flights to Blantyre mark a milestone in air transport in the country. It took passengers about five-hour to travel to catch a flight in Lilongwe and this drastically cuts that time. The introduction of these flights will cut the time a passenger flies to Nairobi which is a business hub in Africa to less than three hours from eight hours,” said Mia.
He added that business and tourism will improve since the new flights provide more competition and competitive rates.
Mia further noted that tourists and investors prefer to get to their destinations without any problems and thus the flights will cater for tourist destinations such as Mulanje, Mangochi and Liwonde.
But is the introduction of the direct flights a silver bullet to the country’s economic problems?
The country has numerous business related problems that it needs to work on.
The country struggles with meeting its energy requirements. The country generates about 287megawatts against a suppressed demand of 350megawatts and an estimated total energy demand of 1000megawatts.
Government is however, implementing such energy demand management projects, signed the power interconnector and will this year add 64megawatts to the national grid after the commissioning of Kapichira Phase Two project.
The country is also yet to have an efficient railway system that connects Malawi to the sea, after the completion of the Moatize-Nacala railway line which is being constructed by Vale.
Traders also await the operation of the Nsanje World Inland Port which apparently would cut the country’s transportations costs. This would inevitably improve the competitiveness of local exports and reduce business costs.
The country’s overall doing business is also not pleasing. In the latest World Bank Doing Business Report, Malawi is ranked 157 out of 183 economies. However, government has argued that this year the ranking will improve based on the number of business reforms that have so far been implemented.