In the not-so-distant future, one will no longer have to travel to the South African OR Tambo International Airport to fly abroad as Lesotho has stricken a deal that would see the country trading directly with three Middle East flight giants, cabinet has said.
According to a document encompassing the decisions of Cabinet reached last week, the country has inked a deal to trade and travel directly to and from the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey on a Ratification of Airline Service Agreement.
â€œCabinet made a decision that the government of Lesotho should put to practice the agreements reached between Lesotho and; Arab Emirates, Qatar and Turkey. The agreements are that, the airplanes of those countries should transport people and goods in the country and outside the country, and that the Lesotho airplanes should do the same too in those countries.
The Director Civil Aviation, Motsoale Lesupi told this publication that the move is going to boost the economy of the country since it will be working with countries that have grown economically.
â€œWe are working towards enlarging our capacity in order to accommodate the big planes. We have taken this opportunity to work with those countries because they are some of the giants in economy.
It is called a bilateral air service that will help our country grow economically as we have long dreamed to have this kind of a deal and we are currently working on the terms of a transactional advisor because we want this to happen quickly,â€ he said.
Lesupi pointed out that there are countries that have approached Lesotho, willing to invest in the revamping of Moshoeshoe I International Airport. He said it is estimated to cost billions of Maloti to have the only Lesotho international airportâ€™s runways extended and enlarged. He mentioned that they also want to facelift the terminal building to house many transiting travelers.
â€œWe long had a plan to enlarge our airport and make it one of the big international airports, we were hoping that the government would help us but it is very expensive as it take billions to complete the task.
â€œIt charges around M80million to extend only One Kilometer. But we have received proposals from a couple of potential investors who want to help in the renovation of Moshoeshoe I International Airport, because we want to extend and expand our runway since those planes are big and their engines will rake in the shrubs that will destroy their planes and subsequently put an end to our deal,â€ he said.
â€œMany countries wants to work with Lesotho, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Qatar and few others wanted to work with Lesotho. They said they want to make Lesotho a regional hub and I think that is becoming a reality.
â€œSo this means we are likely to become a Centre of business and tourism because these tourists are tired of visiting the big five in South Africa, they want to come to Lesotho. It means we have to renovate our terminal building to accommodate the transiting passengers.
â€œGod has blessed Lesotho because for a long time I have been longing for this. There was a study that I remember which said Lesotho is strategically positioned to attract airlines. Our prayers have been answered,â€ he said.
Lesupi indicated that Lesotho now has a local airliner to serve the domestic market.
â€œWe now have Mohahlaula which is serving our local market. They are flying tourists across the country to places like Semonkong because the tourists want to know Lesotho,â€ he said.
The Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Mohahlaula Airlines, Phafane Nkotsi indicated that the agreement is not only going to boost the economy of the country but their airline services also especially since they have been affected negatively by the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic since last year February after the inauguration of the airline.
He said they were able to transport Personal Protective Equipment (EPP) into the country. Mohahlaula operates regionally, serving the Southern African Countries (SADC) and Central Africa, while domestically it flies to the Highlands of the country; Qachaâ€™s Nek, Mokhotlong, Semonkong and Thaba-Tseka and Sehlabathebe National Park.
â€œWe see it as an opportunity to help the aviation of Lesotho as it was affected by Covid-19, we were using only chartered flights to transport PPEs. It is true it will be very slow for the first twelve months due to the lockdowns and that other cities are still closed, but when the Covid-19 is gone and the business free to operate, we will be able to get off the ground. Our plans and schedule were affected, but gradually with the help of the coming tourists we believe the business go back to normal,â€ he said.
He further stated that they have enough capacity to accommodate over 1000 and they are ready.
â€œThere is enough capacity suitable for people above one thousand. We have three flights that take twelve people and two that we were using for chartered flights that take people. It takes about 40 to 50 minutes to Qachaâ€™s Nek as it is the remote district, the rest take below 35 minutes,â€ he said.
Nkotsi said they are soon going to make a big announcement which he declined to disclose to this publication, he said it entails the details of the agreement that has been reached by these countries.