LUSAKA, Zambia – Zambia airline, Proflight Zambia, is celebrating 25 years in operation this month. The airline is marking its quarter of a century in business by reflecting on the highs and lows at the heart of the nation’s air transport industry.
Proflight Zambia has not only become the largest indigenous commercial air carrier in Zambia but it is gradually spreading its wings across Southern Africa. No private airline has developed at a faster pace in Zambia’s aviation history.
The airline’s growth into a successful regional airline has not always been smooth, however.
The starting point was a five-seater Beechcraft Baron aeroplane. Today, Proflight carries over 130,000 passengers annually, with the airline operating a 50-seater Bombardier CRJ-100 jet, 3 29-seater Jetstream 41 aircraft, and 2 18-seater Jetstream 32s. Its 9 destinations in 3 countries is continually expanding. Citing its team of skilled staff as the key to the airline’s success, the carrier employs 218 people, including 44 ground staff, 40 pilots, and 19 cabin crew.
Following the liquidation of the state-owned national carrier, Zambia Airways, a young Zambian pilot, Tony Irwin, having seen an opportunity and with the foresight to identify the potential of an expanding economy, set out to transform a small family-run charter business into Proflight Air Services.
“I am so proud of what we have achieved in a quarter of a century. We started out in 1991, and now we have over 130,000 passengers a year! We could not have done this without the dedication, passion, and talent of our incredible staff. We would like to thank the hundreds of thousands of passengers and every member of staff who has made Proflight Zambia what it is today,” said Managing Director Tony Irwin.
“From humble beginnings, Proflight, in tandem with Zambia, has grown to become a leading player,” he added.
Captain Phillip Lemba, Director of Government and Industry Affairs, said: “Our baby is 25! We are so humbled that Proflight, a proudly Zambian airline, has continued to grow and thrive. Tony and I are passionate about our country and fiercely proud of this airline which has, against all odds, with the hard work of over 200 staff, continued to expand and succeed, serving the aviation needs of the nation.”
“The meteoric rise of Proflight was not without difficulties, however. Succeeding in the aviation business in a nation whose aviation sector was still in its infancy proved to be challenging. We had a large cross-section of the population that didn’t understand or appreciate the value of air travel and its impact on passenger convenience and the national economy. Convincing people, shifting mindsets in favor of air travel and Proflight in particular, was one of the most difficult hurdles we encountered,” said Mr. Irwin.
Captain Philip Lemba said: “Let it be on record that we had a hard time starting out. It’s easy to focus on what we have today and where we are headed without remembering the immense pressure we faced. We were forced to close a number of our routes, we had loyal staffers leave us for various reasons, and we had a population that had more faith in road travel than air travel. We had to overcome a number of difficulties to be where we are at today.”
Despite this, however, Proflight has attracted some of Zambia’s premier aviation experts who have played a significant role in the airline’s progress over the years. Some of its top staff include engineers, administrators, and pilots who have worked in the aviation sector for over 30 years. These include the likes of Chitalu Kabalika, Chief Administration Officer and Corporation Secretary; Kenneth Silavwe, Director of Safety, Security and Quality; Capt. Gerald Tembo, Chief Pilot; Capt. Ken Kabungo, Jetstream Captain; and Vincent Mwaba, Quality Assurance Manager.
Proflight Zambia has grown with Zambia over the last 25 years, expanding not only its fleet, the number of destinations it serves, and a variety of partnerships with international airlines, but it adapted its strategic approach to focus on Zambians as well as international visitors, meeting the needs of business people and leisure seekers in a time of a burgeoning economy.
Broadening the customer base by flying to destinations off the tourist track has been key to recent growth, with the airline contributing millions of dollars to the Zambian economy each year in terms of employment generation and savings in time for business people and connecting industry and tourism in an efficient and safe way.
“The secret to Proflight’s success lies in responding to the needs of our passengers while remaining true to our core principles of being safe, reliable, efficient, and friendly. To celebrate our Silver Jubilee, we are adding a ninth domestic destination, Mbala, as well as continuing our regional routes to Lilongwe and Durban. Our partnerships with airlines such as Emirates, Kenyan Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, and SAA among others has allowed us to make flying internationally even easier for our customers,” said Capt. Lemba.
The airline has also adapted to the rapidly-changing world of communication technology, allowing customers to book flights and check in online. Furthermore, Proflight’s accessibility to its passengers is enhanced by its social media presence, allowing 2-way communication daily with thousands of customers. Innovative payment methods include the ability to book and pay through Shoprite supermarkets countrywide, and to pay using Airtel and MTN mobile money.
The airline is under no illusions: aviation is a tough business in any market. In Africa, the challenges are even harder. But with 25 years of experience, an economy growing above the global rate, and a cautious business model, the airline has succeeded where others have failed. The nagging question, therefore is, “What is the plan for the next 25 years; where does this domestic airline see itself in 2041?”
“Twenty-five years in this business is no joke. We are leveraging our experience, and I can confidently tell you that this is just the beginning,” says Captain Lemba, “Our vision is as strong as it was in 1991. Proflight’s strength is in slow and steady growth. We are actively evaluating new routes domestically and regionally. Our goal, as ever, is to deliver excellent service to our passengers.”
From its humble beginnings 25 years ago, there is no mistaking Proflight has taken off, already traveling at jet speed, even the sky is no limit. A true testament to the airline’s tagline, “Just Plane Smart.”