26 November 2012

Namibia: Air Namibia Faces Debilitating Losses

Photo: Stephanie Savariaud/WFP
File Photo.

Windhoek — The Namibian Airline Pilots Association (NAPA) says the total monthly cost of the striking pilots' demands is a fraction of the daily cost of the strike, which is estimated at N$5 million per day, bringing the total cost of losses so far for Air Namibia to approximately N$45 million.

"NAPA is shocked to realise that management would rather face these crippling losses than give any serious consideration to their pilots' request for fair pay," lamented NAPA president, Christian Schneider.

In a statement released late last week, Schneider added that Air Namibia is able to prolong the strike through their employment of foreign pilots, many of whom, he says, cost the company more than double what Namibian pilots in the same position currently earn.

However, according to the airline's corporate communication officer, Oneka Msiska, the airline is not incurring any additional costs by using contracted pilots since these pilots were already working for Air Namibia prior to the strike.

"Air Namibia operations are continuing with the non-NAPA members, which include foreign contract pilots who were already employed on one and two year contracts," said Msiska. The airline currently makes use of 13 foreign-contracted pilots, 17 foreign ad hoc-contracted pilots and 81 permanent Namibian pilots.

However, not all NAPA-affiliated pilots are on strike and some are reporting for duty as usual. Air Namibia has cancelled more than 30 domestic and international flights that were scheduled until next week Monday, due to the industrial action currently undertaken by NAPA.

However, when pressed for details on exactly how much revenue the airline is losing due to the flight cancellations, officials at the financially hemorrhaging Air Namibia said 'it is difficult to tell at this stage.'

"We are consolidating passengers booked on different flights onto those that are being operated at the moment. The airline is also having arrangements to re-route some of our affected passengers - those that cannot be accommodated on the few flights we are operating - on partner airlines such as South African Airways and British Airways/Comair. So once the strike is over, it will be easier to substantiate (the losses)," explained Msiska. The airline's spokesperson, Paul Nakawa, earlier last week said losses are estimated to be in the region of N$5 million per day.

Air Namibia has offered the pilots a 5 percent salary increment on cost to company across the board, backdated to April 1 2012. However, the pilots association declined the offer, saying they had not received a salary increase since 2009, adding that they now receive about 30 percent less than their counterparts at other airlines in the region.

The national airline has also appealed to the striking pilots to exercise patience and to allow for a turnaround strategy, implemented about a year ago, to take effect, which should make more funds available. NAPA's Schneider was however not responsive to the plea.

"Management's plea to NAPA for extra time to implement the turnaround plan needs to be put into perspective. The turnaround plan has been in operation for one year already, but despite this the MD now states that the company is technically bankrupt."

NAPA also referred to an automatic annual 3 percent increase, which is part of the salary structure for every position a pilot occupies in the course of their career, but this policy is only applicable for five years, after which the automatic 3 percent will fall away.

"It is NAPA's sincere wish to reach a speedy, mutually acceptable solution to this impasse. We are confident that our track record shows that we made every possible attempt to avoid where we find ourselves today. It is imperative that management now show a serious commitment to finding such a solution," concluded Schneider.

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