How diplomatic intervention kept Air France, KLM in Zanzibar

Friday March 24 2023
A KLM Royal passenger aircraft on flight.

A KLM Royal passenger aircraft on flight. Air France and KLM had threatened to cancel flights to Zanzibar over a requirement to either sign with ground handler Dnata Zanzibar or move out of Terminal 3 at Abeid Amani Karume International Airport. PHOTO | AFP


At the turn of the year, Air France and the Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM) were faced with a major decision to make — either sign with the Zanzibar Airports Authority’s (ZAA) preferred ground handler Dnata Zanzibar or move out of Terminal 3 at Abeid Amani Karume International Airport (AAKIA).

In a notice dated September 14, 2022, ZAA had set January 19, 2023 as the deadline for all international airlines to either move to Terminal 2 or sign with Dnata Zanzibar.

The two airlines did neither.

They were not ready to oblige and, as a result, they sought to reverse the situation through the regulator but the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority TCAA advised that their issue was being dealt with at a ministerial level.

Threatening to withdraw

With the clock ticking away, and the January 19 deadline fast approaching, the two airlines were threatening to withdraw from Zanzibar and later cancel the inauguration of Air France flights to Dar es Salaam.


To date, whereas the other ground handler ZAT was thrown out of Terminal 3, the two airlines handled by Transworld still fly into the Abeid Amani Karume International Airport, operating three weekly flights each using Terminal 3 building

It has, however, emerged, that the Netherlands and France sought a diplomatic solution to the standoff at the Abeid Aman Karume airport, warning that it could disrupt Air France and KLM flights into Zanzibar, and later Dar es Salaam.

The Dutch and France embassies in Tanzania wrote to the government over the granting of exclusive ground handling rights to Dnata at the airport’s new Terminal 3 building.

Air France’s inaugural flight

In their joint official letter to the foreign ministry, the ambassadors of the two countries revealed Air France and KLM would cancel flights to Zanzibar and suspend Air France’s June 2023 inaugural flight launch to the Julius Nyerere International Airport, Dar es Salaam should the impasse not be amicably resolved.

The two foreign airlines have declined to work with Dnata Zanzibar as instructed by ZAA in its notice and also insisted on operating from Terminal 3, failure to which they could suspend operations in the country.  

The letter by the embassies, a copy of which The Citizen has seen, was dated January 16, 2023 and was copied to various ministries and entities on both sides of the union. The envoys cited security and insurance reasons for the airlines’ apprehension.

“We would like to point out that these changes will severely impact the joint operations of Air France and KLM in Zanzibar due to security and insurance issues and will result in suspending of flights to Zanzibar, and as well in June 2023 the opening of Air France flights into the Julius Nyerere International Airport,” wrote the two ambassadors.

They cite developments that have taken place since September 14, 2022 when ZAA demanded that all International airlines flying into the Isles register with Dnata.

However, KLM and Air France protested the decision and informed the TCAA that they would not change their ground handler over an existing binding contract.

The two airlines further indicated they would continue operating from the new Terminal 3 and not the old Terminal 2 as ordered by the authorities.  The current ground handler for KLM and Air France is Transworld Aviation Limited which also has a Class II concession by ZAA, approved by TCAA.

The airlines started operating from Terminal 3 in October 2021.