Zambia Airways (ZN, Lusaka) has taken delivery of its first aircraft, a Dash 8-400 on damp lease from equity partner Ethiopian Airlines (ET, Addis Ababa International).

ET-ANK (msn 4304) arrived in Lusaka on Monday, November 29, ahead of its deployment into service on December 1 with flights to Ndola International and Livingstone. Though painted in the nascent Zambian flag carrier's livery and manned by a Zambian crew, the aircraft will remain on the Ethiopian register for now.

Minister of Transport and Logistics Frank Tayali said in a speech that Zambia Airways expects to operate six aircraft (four Dash 8-400s and two B737-800s) and carry over 700,000 passengers by 2027. He had earlier indicated that the bulk of Zambia's USD16.5 million investment in the carrier would go to paying Ethiopian for aircraft leases. This arrangement is expected to last four years, after which time Zambia Airways is expected to be self-sustaining.

"This investment represents the government’s commitment to deepening and strengthening Zambia's value-chain development agenda," he said. "The establishment of the national airline will spur growth in the tourism and export sectors and will have a significant multiplier effect on job creation through the different businesses in the aviation supply chain such as hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, publishers, and others. Additionally, Zambia Airways signifies improved accessibility to tourist attractions for tourists to ensure the full utilisation of the airport facilities and transformation of Zambia into a regional tourist and transit hub."

Tayali also called on the airline, a 55/45 joint venture between the state-owned Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and Ethiopian, to look at branching into cargo operations.

Ahead of this development, Tayali told lawmakers in Zambia's parliament last week that while the new government of Hakainde Hichilema would not review Zambia Airways' principle shareholders agreement, it would go through other contracts to ensure mutual benefit to both parties.

"Government will not be reviewing the principle shareholders agreement, signed with Ethiopian Airlines, and the fundamental principles will not change. However, through the IDC, the government is reviewing attendant agreements with Ethiopian Airlines to ensure that their terms and conditions are equitable and do not in any way disadvantage the Zambian government. The review process has commenced and focuses on the two agreements entered into between Zambia Airways 2014 Ltd. and Ethiopian, namely the expertise support contract and the technical services agreements, which are maintenance agreements," he said.

The revitalised successor to Zambia Airways (1964) (Lusaka) was a flagship project of former president Edgar Lungu who has since been accused of indebting the country through unnecessary and costly vanity projects. It has been argued that this current incarnation of Zambia Airways is unnecessary given the Southern African state is already well served, both domestically and regionally, by private operators such as Proflight Zambia, Mahogany Air, and Royal Zambian Airlines.

Taken to task during the Q&A session about the Lungu government's role in the new Zambia Airways, Tayali confirmed that his office was aware that the previous regime did, in fact, acquire four unidentified aircraft for the start-up, but that matters remain opaque.

"Yes, there are issues of four aircraft that were procured by the previous administration, believed to be in Russia, and that my administration has been trying to establish what they were trying to do because there were actually three separate entities that had been established to try and come up with a national airline. At this juncture, I do not want to divulge any further information as investigations are still underway to establish whether or not these were a conduit for corruption," he said, adding that matters of national security also precluded any further comment.

The minister had previously said the government would try and recover monies already put down for the purchase of the aircraft.