Lesotho airline wants to start scheduled flights by September next year

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Demand on the route between Johannesburg and Maseru is mostly driven by business travellers, but there is also a tourism component.
Demand on the route between Johannesburg and Maseru is mostly driven by business travellers, but there is also a tourism component.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
  • Mohahlaula Airlines plans to start scheduled commercial flights between Johannesburg and Maseru, Lesotho, by September next year.
  • The company has been flying charter flights since it obtained an air operator licence in 2020.
  • CEO Phafane Nkotsi says the plan is to be low-cost, but offer services driven by quality, reliability and safety.
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A Lesotho company plans to launch scheduled commercial flights between Maseru and Johannesburg by September next year.

Mohahlaula Airlines eventually wants to expand its scheduled routes to other destinations in SA and the rest of the region, says CEO Phafane Nkotsi.

"Our plan is to be low-cost, but our services will be driven by quality, reliability and safety. We will likely start with a daily flight between Maseru and SA's economic hub of Johannesburg, but we could increase it to two flights daily if the demand is there," he told Fin24.

Nkotsi is an entrepreneur whose Bohlokoa Enterprises is based in Lesotho. Apart from being involved in setting up one of the largest commercial chicken broiler farms in Lesotho, as well as Mohahlaula Airlines, the company has subsidiaries in construction, consulting, and IT. Nkotsi was also the executive secretary of a business initiative in Lesotho which raised funds to obtain Covid-19 vaccines for Basotho worth just over US$2 million.

Mohahlaula obtained an Air Operator Certificate (AOC) in February 2020. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and related travel bans, however, forced it to put plans for scheduled commercial flights on hold. It has since then been carrying out charter flights for passengers and cargo within Lesotho as well as the southern African region.

"We got the AOC just before the lockdowns. The plan was always to ultimately move to scheduled commercial flights too. We have been building our the know-how from a startup to a growing company. We believe now is the perfect time in terms of demand for travel, which is going back to pre- pandemic levels. We have people with solid aviation experience in place," says Nkotsi.

The airline has applied for a route expansion based on its existing licence. According to Motsooale Lesupi, director of Lesotho's Civil Aviation Authority, the application process will likely take some months to complete.

Demand on the route between Johannesburg and Maseru is mostly driven by business travellers, but there is also a tourism component.

"We saw an opportunity to start scheduled commercial flights. We have gained good experience from our charter flights and are ready to tackle a new challenge. We also see good opportunities eventually to expand our scheduled commercial flights to destinations like to Cape Town and elsewhere in the region," says Nkotsi.

Airlink is currently the only airline offering scheduled commercial flights on the Johannesburg-Maseru route.

"We did a proper diagnosis of the route and have a strategy to make the most of it. We understand the challenge, but competition is always good and keeps markets healthy. We look forward to becoming a player in this sector," says Nkotsi. 

"I know aviation is a cut-throat business with razor-thin margins. It requires 'patient capital'. We already have investors ready and plan to list the airline on the Maseru Securities Market after about six to nine months."

An aviation insider, who spoke to Fin24 on condition of remaining anonymous, says only the market will tell whether there is room for another airline on the Johannesburg-Maseru route.

"It is not an easy market given that Maseru is fairly close to Johannesburg, making road travel a good substitute for flights. Lesotho also does not have the wealthiest demographic," he says.

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