Proflight Looks Back on a Decade of Challenges and Triumphs
It is ten years since Nkwazi magazine was first carried on board a Proflight Zambia aircraft in late 2012. Proflight Zambia celebrates the inflight magazine with a special issue, in which it looks back on the last decade of flying, connecting Zambia and the Central Southern African region.
Proflight has been operating for 31 years, but the last 10 years has seen a meteoric rise for the airline that has been both rewarding and fulfilling – as well as challenging.
November 2012 was a turning point for the airline, when it was awarded an Air Operators Certificate (AOC) from the Department of Civil Aviation (now the Zambia Civil Aviation Authority), issued with the oversight of the aviation industry’s international regulator, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). It confirmed Proflight meets rigorous international safety, security and operational standards.
With that endorsement under its wing, Proflight continued the approach of slow, steady growth: adding new routes, refining those that were less popular and expanding its fleet with larger, more cost-effective aircraft.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit the airline industry hard, however, but Proflight is confident it is emerging as a leaner and stronger airline as a result.
Despite the turbulence, some things haven’t changed at Proflight, and it continues to pride itself in providing a safe, reliable, efficient and friendly service, and offering good value to business and leisure travellers locally and internationally.
A growing network
A decade ago, Proflight flew from its base in Lusaka to Livingstone, Mfuwe, Lower Zambezi, Ndola, Solwezi, Chipata, Mansa and Kasama.
By 2015 Proflight was named one of the fastest-growing local airlines in Southern Africa, with capacity almost doubling between 2010 and 2014.
Ten years on, Livingstone, Mfuwe and Ndola remain key destinations, along with the emerging mining area served by Solwezi, as the route network continues to reflect the changing economy and growth of the country.
Excitingly, Proflight also launched international routes during the decade, including Lubumbashi, Harare and Durban, before focusing as it does now on the popular Johannesburg route to South Africa from Lusaka, and more recently, Ndola.
Proflight has opened various routes in the last 10 years. During this period the airline worked efficiently to provide sustainable transport services that benefited travellers, tourism, businesses, and local industries.
In the company’s early days, the primary focus was on tourism-related travel, flying people to national parks, but later to reflect the needs of its diverse clientele Proflight expanded its services and network to boost business travel, particularly in the mining sector-driven cities on Ndola and Solwezi.
Currently, the airline from its base in Lusaka its domestic routes include, Livingstone, Mfuwe, Lower Zambezi (Jeki and Royal airstrip), Ndola, Solwezi and Mansa, and regional routes to Johannesburg in South Africa from Lusaka and Ndola.
In 2019, Proflight made its maiden flight into the business capital of Africa’s most industrialized nation, South Africa. This was the airline’s second conduit into South Africa after its Durban route, which was closed during the pandemic. The route has since grown, with more scheduled direct flights from Ndola and Lusaka straight into the business hub of Africa’s City of Gold, Johannesburg.
Proflight’s decision to service the Ndola and Lusaka-Johannesburg routes comes in the wake of the rising demand for air travel given the corresponding rise in business pulse and trade between Zambia and South Africa in the last decade.
A growing fleet
When the airline was set up in 1991 by former Zambia Airways pilot Tony Irwin, the company only had one five-seater Beechcraft Baron aircraft.
As routes have expanded since then, Proflight has added larger, more efficient aircraft to its fleet.
By 2012 the airline operated two 29-seater Jetstream 41 aircraft; three 18-seater Jetstream 32’s; two 12-seater Caravan C208; nine-seater Britten Norman Islander; seven-seater Cessna C401/C402; and two five-seater Beech Baron.
In 2018 it raised the stakes with a 114-seat Boeing 737-500 aircraft to its fleet to meet increased demand in routes to Ndola and Livingstone. The economics of such a large aircraft did not prove effective, however, and the airline has since taken on a more efficient fleet mix with the addition of two 50-seater Bombardier CRJ-100/200 jets, in addition to its current three 29-seater Jetstream 41 aircraft and one 18-seater Jetstream 32 aircraft.
Partnerships have been key to Proflight’s success over the years. It is linked to all the major global distribution systems enabling travel agents around the world to book tickets in real-time. The airline holds multiple interline agreements with all the major carriers operating in Zambia, to enable one-airline-ticket itineraries and baggage allowance into Zambia from around the world.
Shifting market opportunities
Zambia is internationally renowned for its scenic wonders and unbeatable wildlife. The country is spoiled with waterfalls, national parks, and cultural diversity that global tourists come to visit in their thousands every year.
International tourists and business travellers are key, but Proflight has also strongly supported the government and other stakeholders in programmes aimed at giving Zambians more opportunities to explore their country.
The airline democratized the local airspace by giving Zambians the opportunity to travel within their country and beyond for leisure and business purposes.
Throughout the years, Proflight has brought the wonder of air travel to thousands. In 2013, the airline carried over 135,000 passengers, and the number was on the rise since then – at least until COVID-19.
In the past 10 years, the airline has seen local travellers having faith in aviation and this has been key in its growth. Through offering affordable services and networks that are meaningful to its clients Proflight has helped change the mindset of many people to rely on aviation as a beneficial means of transportation that is affordable, safe and reliable.
The rise of domestic tourism has been an important factor in helping Proflight diversify its operations, which also focus heavily on bringing international tourists and business people to Zambia, playing a pivotal role in boosting foreign exchange earnings and the economy as a whole.
Encounters along the journey
Despite its growth, the airline’s operations have not been without difficulties and challenges in the last 10 years.
Zambia’s aviation had a large cross-section of the population that didn’t trust air travel or considered it to be very expensive. It may have been the safest mode of travel, but this did not matter to them. Convincing people and shifting mindsets in favor of air travel and Proflight, in particular, was one of the most difficult hurdles the airline encountered. In early 2020 this worsened because of COVID-19 which resulted in travel restrictions and health concerns.
Competition has come and gone along the way, and COVID-19 hit business hard, forcing the airline to close a number of routes due to the pandemic as passenger numbers dwindled and revenue dropped. The airline is confident is has now emerged from the pandemic leaner and stronger as a result, however.
Throughout the decade that Nkwazi has been in the seat pockets of Proflight aircraft, it has chronicled many stories about Zambian destinations, national parks, local communities, businesses, and role models, across industries and cultures leaving a sound mark in people’s hearts and lives from all over Africa and the world.
A reflection of the impact that Proflight has brought to the nation by connecting people, investing in routes, aircraft, and systems, and supporting the growth of the country.