Checkmate as Khama’s Air Botswana Masterstroke

  • CAAB ordered to register “ghost aircraft”
  • CAAB Illegally Registers Q400 Jets
  • CemAir Signs Wet Lease with Bombardier
  • Khama’s backup plan gets into gear


Botswana aviation insiders have raised alarms that Bombardier, a Canadian aircraft maker with connections to the Khama family has entered into a tentative agreement to supply commercial planes to CemAir, a company positioned to take over Air Botswana.
Following President Ian Khama’s failed manoeuvre to force Cabinet to have Air Botswana bequeathed to Wilderness Safaris, a company which he has interests in, Khama appears to be, once again positioning a company with indirect links to himself to benefit from the privatisation of Air Botswana. In order to derive maximum benefit from the transaction a questionable instruction has been issued to the Civil Aviation Authority Botswana (CAAB). CAAB has been directed, from the highest office to place in their aircraft registry, the Canadian made Bombardier Q400 aircraft and this ensures that the winning bidder procures them, as part of the privatization process.
A master stroke of a move, insiders say, due to the Seleka Springs connections, Bombardier has supplied presidential executive jets in the past on tenders worth over P500 million. The move would deal a pyrrhic victory to Batswana who were in merriment after Wilderness Safaris withdrew its controversial bid. Seleka Springs the aerospace and defence company owned by Minister of Tourism Tshekedi Khama and his twin brother Anthony, has monopolized multimillion pula defence and aircraft tenders over the last two decades.
Insiders reveal that CemAir, a South African chattered airliner had scored the highest mark during the adjudication process while Wilderness Safaris was disqualified, but Khama allegedly forced Cabinet to award Air Botswana to Wilderness Safaris.
Investigations by this publication reveal that after the withdrawal of Wilderness Safaris, CemAir is now the preferred company and is being positioned for the takeover of Air Botswana.
Seven days ago at the Paris Air show, investigations reveal, CemAir signed a letter of intent (LOI) with Bombardier Commercial Aircraft to acquire two Q400 turboprop jets. Reports indicate that if confirmed the deal is valued at $65 million (P650 million).
An Illegal Aircraft Registration?
Information passed on to this publication reveals that the intended purchase comes a few weeks after Bombardier made a request to CAAB to have its Q400 aircraft in their registry but was turned down by CAAB for reasons that no one owns or operates such aircraft in Botswana. Insiders within CAAB confirm that an instruction was issued from the highest office forcing CAAB to overturn their original denial and compelled them to register the Q400 aircraft for the Canadians, as the preferred planes of the office that issued the instruction.
Aviation insiders say that the abnormal registration, contravenes CAAB procedures that provide that only aircraft owned or operated in the Republic should appear in the CAAB registry.
“That the Q400 appears on the CAAB registry is an anomaly as no operator nor individual owns or operates that type of aircraft in Botswana,”an aviation expert told The Botswana Gazette.
“Under normal circumstances a proposed operator or owner of an aircraft, not manufacturer, would make an application to CAAB to have a particular type of aircraft to be placed in the CAAB registry. Basically the proof of ownership or lease must exist. In this case CAAB has placed in its registry “ghost aircraft” that no proposed operator owns at the moment and it is illegal,” an insider at CAAB also revealed.
For their part CAAB spokesperson Nkwe Modipe could not confirm or deny the registration of Bombardier’s Q400 but stated that he would not have such information at his finger tips.
When Khama assumed Presidency in 2008, he quickly put pen to paper on a contract worth P500 million with the Canadian aircraft manufacturer for the supply of Bombardier BD-700-1A10 Global Express (OK1 presidential jet). Reports would later reveal that Seleka Springs, a company owned by the Khama family was the middle man in the purchase.  Last year Defence Minister Shaw Kgathi told Parliament that the Khama twins, Anthony and Tshekedi, through Seleka Springs benefited from various multi billion defence and aviation acquisition deals.
Insiders claim that the pre-existing relationship, between the Khamas and the company together with the “ghost” registration suggests that Bombardier is more than certain that the Q400 will be owned or leased to fly in Botswana.
On June 22, 2017 CemAir placed a tentative order with Bombardier for two Q400s jets shortly after the abnormal request by Bombardier to have the Q400 placed in the CAAB registry.
The same CemAir had a few months ago brought a Q400 aircraft to Air Botswana for a demonstration, insiders reveal. It is however unclear who had requested for the demo aircraft from CemAir, since CemAir is not the manufacturer but a South African charter company.
Information gathered by The Botswana Gazette reveals that CemAir did not own any Q400 at the time, they have only recently signed an tentative order last week to procure two, from Bombardier of ahead of the awarding the Air Botswana privatization bid.
CemAir was not available for comment.
With the two Q400s, CemAir would increase its current fleet of aircraft to 17 – including five Q 300 Series turboprops and 12 CRJ Series aircraft. CemAir also operates seven Beechcraft 1900Ds, all manufactured by Bombardier.
“With their impressive short-runway performance and the flexibility it brings to our operations, the Q Series turboprops have allowed us to build our network and fly passengers from more airports,” CemAir’s chief executive Miles van der Molen said in a press statement. “We are looking forward to the addition of these brand new Q400 aircraft which will help us support our growth and increase connectivity in South Africa.”