LONDON, England — Virgin Atlantic is considering government proposal for the British airline to operate direct flights between London and Dar es Salaam to serve thousands of tourists and other travelers preferring the route. The airline founder and British business magnate Sir Richard Branson held talks with President Jakaya Kikwete on Friday and expressed his enthusiasm to fully explore that possibility.
The government has approached Virgin Atlantic after British Airways suspended its operations early this year citing ‘non profitability of the route’. “Dar es Salaam was not performing well from a commercial perspective, so we have taken the decision to suspend the route,” the BA said in a statement. Briefing the media after Friday’s discussion, Transport Minister, Dr. Harrison Mwakyembe said Virgin Atlantic was currently studying viability of the route before making a decision. Dr. Mwakyembe said last year the country recorded a 24% increase in the number of tourist arrivals, hence the need to improve air transport and provide as many connection options as possible. The minister also said Sir Richard, who is the fourth richest UK citizen according to the Forbes 2012 list of billionaires, with an estimated net worth of US dollars 4.6 billion, had shown interest to invest in railway transport as well, but discussions were still at an early stage. Dr. Mwakyembe said while d BA withdrew, other airlines like Emirates were capitalising on the increasing number of tourists and other travelers to the country from Europe and North America. The Emirates have given the route a clear vote of confidence by using the significantly larger B777-300ER – effectively giving them an extra 40 percent capacity or 1,400 seats a week – on their flights to Dar es Salaam. Meanwhile, Dr Mwakyembe stressed that the government would not get tired in its efforts to ensure Air Tanzania operates efficiently.
‘Let private players come but the government will facilitate ATCL to ensure the national flag carrier stands on its own feet and operate profitably,” said the minister. He also reiterated that disciplinary actions will be taken against all officials found to have mismanaged or stolen from ATCL , leaving it struggling to survive.