21 January 2013

Namibia: Air Namibia Cuts Flights

AIR Namibia on Friday announced that it was reducing its number of flights.

This news came in the same week that the national airline made headlines for its financial and staff woes.

According to Paul Nakawa, the spokesperson of Air Namibia, the daily flights to Frankfurt have been slashed to four flights per week.

This arrangement, he said, would be in place from January 27 to June 24.

Nakawa said the measure was necessitated because the lease agreement for the two Airbus aircraft used for the Windhoek-Frankfurt route expires towards the middle of the year.

"As per industry practice, the airline is obliged to execute heavy maintenance work on these aircraft to meet the 'return conditions' of the aircraft lease agreements."

As a result of this, the aircraft will be withdrawn from the route one at a time to undergo the planned maintenance, he said. "Then there will be only one aircraft to service the route; hence the flight schedule was reduced."

Also, he said, "the retiring A340-300 will be replaced by a brand new state-of-the art Airbus A330-200 which is expected to enter our fleet from October 2013 in line with the national carrier's fleet renewal programme".

Erkki Nghimtina, the minister of works and transport, last Monday said that Government might lose sympathy for Air Namibia should the airline not scale down its operations to cut costs.

The airline has received around N$1,3 billion in government bailouts over the last ten years to acquire new aircraft, for maintenance services and fuel subsidies.

On Friday, Nakawa further announced that flights between Windhoek and Cape Town and those between the Namibian capital and Johannesburg would be cut from three to two per day from January 27.

According to him, this "is just a temporary measure in response to the current air traffic trends and demands. The season that has started is a low season in the industry. In the airline industry, we monitor the trends, and we are responsive to the demands of the market at any given time, bearing in mind the dynamics and economics of the industry we are in."

The Monday morning flight from Windhoek to Maun and Victoria Falls and back to Windhoek will now operate on a Tuesday morning. The Wednesday afternoon flight on the same route is shifted to Wednesday morning.

Nakawa said this is being done "to make the connection easier for our passengers who are flying to Frankfurt".

He said most of the passengers who fly to Maun and Victoria Falls are tourists from Germany. "Hence this change is parallel with the Windhoek-Frankfurt changes for easier connections."

Last week, the airline's management had to put out fires after cabin crew members dished more dirt about the airline's financial woes.

According to two cabin crew members, they have not been receiving any subsistence and travel (S&T) allowances when working in Namibia and Southern Africa for the past month and a half.

They also charged that, since the weekend, their S&T when travelling abroad has been slashed by 50%.

Nakawa rubbished these allegations, saying it is "not true at all".

He said they accommodate their cabin crew in various accommodation establishments in the different towns and cities where they operate.

"Room rates are paid as per terms and conditions of the agreements that exist between the parties. On top of this, our crew are paid their S&T allowances in timely fashion for their meals and other necessities, as per company policies when they are away on duty."

Had they not been compensated, "they were expected to register their grievances through the right and correct procedures at their disposal and within the company. We have an open-door policy within Air Namibia and as management, our employees are our great assets. Hence we attend swiftly to matters that may pose direct negative effects to their performances as these ones."

Nakawa did however admit that Air Namibia finds itself in a financial pinch. "Such a situation is not only unique to Air Namibia, it is common with any airline company. We are running this serious business in a volatile industry."

He said their sales during the last quarter of 2012 had declined - mainly due to labour issues.

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