GABORONE, June 7 (Reuters) - Botswana's largest tourism company, Wilderness Holdings , is the government's preferred bidder for national airline Air Botswana, which is being privatized, a transport ministry official said on Wednesday.
Wilderness, which operates small aircraft under Wilderness Air, beat South Africa's CemAir at the last hurdle of the bidding process, Kabelo Ebineng, permanent secretary in the transport and communication ministry, said.
"Looking at what we want to achieve with the airline, Wilderness has been chosen by the cabinet as the preferred bidder," Ebineng told a parliamentary committee. "We expect a deal to be completed in the next 9-12 months."
Air Botswana has been making losses, blamed on a large workforce and an aging fleet, which prompted the government to launch a turnaround plan that includes cutting costs and canceling unprofitable routes. It has already stopped flights to Harare and Lusaka.
Ebineng did not elaborate on what form the privatization will take, but the government in its invitation for bids had said it was open to joint ventures, ownership, franchising and concessions.
Wilderness runs luxury resorts in eight African countries and Wilderness Air operates 35 small aircrafts in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia, mainly for tourists.
Air Botswana operates four domestic routes and also flies to Cape Town and Johannesburg. (Writing by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; Editing by Susan Fenton)