As from 1 October 2021 fully vaccinated international travellers will be allowed to visit Mauritius. This full reopening is being made against the backdrop of the uncertainty prevailing to this day as regards the fate of Air Mauritius. Given the government’s focus and the economy’s dependency on the tourism sector’s revival (which contributed at least 23% to GDP in earlier years), one would have expected it come out with some concrete policy decision regarding our national airline instead of allowing it to remain in voluntary administration for 11 long months. It is to be recalled that the Finance minister chose in last budget speech to keep mum about air access policy and what the government would be proposing to do with Air Mauritius that used to carry around 55% of tourists prior to the lockdown and before it was placed under voluntary administration.
No major decision has been made about Air Mauritius for more than a year, and the so-called watershed meeting scheduled initially for December 2020 was postponed a first time to June 202. Public accountants Sattar Hajee Abdoula and Arvindsingh Gokhool of Grant Thornton, have been tasked with the voluntary administration exercise. We now hear that the watershed meeting will finally be held end September or sometime in October in light of the Supreme Court’s decision to impose such a meeting before January 2022. One proposition that is being floated is to bring together the different companies associated with the aviation industry, namely Airports of Mauritius Ltd, Mauritius Duty Free Paradise, Airport Terminal Operations Ltd and Air Mauritius itself into a holding company with a view to taking advantage of the resulting synergy to allow the national airline to take to the skies again.
Aviation, passenger and cargo, requires more than customary accounting or management skills. It weaves specialist knowledge covering a multitude of factors from aircraft and fleet purchase/maintenance, flight destinations and overseas traffic hubs, seat and cargo marketing and sales, industry evolution analysis in addition to having well-trained air and ground personnel, etc. We would like to believe that accountants have the necessary specialist industry overview and skill range to prepare a sustainable forward-looking plan for what remains of our national carrier. It is to be hoped that the Grant Thorton team would have roped in airline industry expertise to propose viable solutions. What government decides on that score and what emerges from the forthcoming watershed meeting will have a determinant impact not only for the carrier’s personnel and air operators but also for our exporters, our tourism and hostelry sectors, our foreign exchange inflows and throughout the national economy.
Air Mauritius is strategically and economically important for Mauritius. Other airlines come and go depending on how much profit they can make or not make by serving the destination. In the case of Air Mauritius, it is different. Other than being a company in its own right, Air Mauritius is the most dependable link we have to the rest of the world.
Air Mauritius can still make it, the less there is outside or political interference in its rational upkeep and autonomous running. Mauritius is unfortunately a place where a lot of irrationality has interfered against the efficient working of many a workplace. If this were to stop and the professional management given a freer hand and the company’s board composition decided solely by the extent of strategic aviation expertise each member has, we could have spared ourselves a rather costly mess.
Funding of Rs 9 billion was earmarked in the last budget towards, one assumes, keeping basic operations going and minimal staff on the payroll. Half of that sum has been already used up and no further amounts having been budgeted this year, there are high expectations from all quarters, including MK personnel, that the situation be clarified at the earliest. The watershed meeting will, we trust, provide the long-awaited scenario(s) and preferred option for our national carrier to ensure its sustainable future, so vital for much of our economic activities and their resumption post-pandemic.
* Published in print edition on 17 September 2021
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