14 July 2017

Namibia: Air Namibia in Dark Over Planes

Air Namibia is aggrieved about being kept in the dark over the recent sale of four planes leased from a French airline. Namibia's national airline is leasing four Embraer ERJ 135 (37-seater) aircraft from Air France subsidiary, HOP!, until next year, at a cost of N$35 million per year.

Air Namibia learned this week that the four planes, leased since 2011, are now owned by Namibian aviation company Westair.

It is unclear what will happen to the lease agreement now that the planes belong to a Namibian company, and whether the national airline will continue paying the new owners.

Air Namibia management is, however, fuming that they were not notified about the transaction. News of the transaction comes as claims of several top ministers pushing for a private aviation company to benefit from Air Namibia deals by next year have emerged.

Air Namibia board chairperson Gerson Tjihenuna yesterday confirmed that the transaction between Westair and Air France transpired without the knowledge of Air Namibia's board or management.

"The board is still awaiting official feedback from management on the matter," he said.

Tjihenuna also confirmed that they told transport minister Alpheus !Naruseb this week that Air France had sold the leased planes to Westair.

He added that they were going to revisit the lease contract to determine whether there was any breach on the side of the supplier before deciding the way forward. The lease contract with the French company only ends next year.

Air Namibia spokesperson Paul Nakawa issued a notice to the airline's staff yesterday, saying the airline was not aware of the sale of the planes to Westair until Wednesday this week.

He said the company from which Air Namibia leases four Embraer aircraft for domestic and regional routes sold the planes to Westair.

"Management is busy attending to this matter. Therefore, management requests staff to remain calm, and it is hoped that operations will continue undisturbed while engagements are ongoing," he stated.

Westair advertises itself as the "most experienced private aviation service provider in Namibia. Whether it is transporting cargo for DHL or VIP charters for the Namibian government, Westair has the fleet, experience and operational know-how to offer our customers safe, fast and reliable service".

Westair is owned by Peter Keil, according to his curriculum vitae found online, while the company's managing director is Gustav Holz.

Speculation is rife about why the French company sold the planes being leased by Namibia's national airline.

The latest deal comes about eight months before the contract between Air Namibia and Air France ends.

"Air Namibia is looking at the options to either buy them, or extend the contract at a reasonable rate, or procure ERJs which are a bit younger than the current ones as they are a bit old, and their reliability is becoming a headache operationally," said a source.

There are several theories doing the rounds at Air Namibia and the ministry of transport, with claims that senior government officials are pushing for a deal which will benefit their Namibian friends.

Some sources claimed that there were senior government officials who wanted to force Air Namibia to buy or lease the planes from Westair by next year.

Another theory is that the new procurement law would force Air Namibia to first advertise in Namibia when they wanted to lease or buy aircraft. That way, Westair would be well-positioned to get the contract.

Officials in the finance ministry, the public enterprises ministry and the attorney general's office are among those said to have known about the aircraft sale transaction.

The ministry of transport is said to be fuming that the Westair deal went through without it being notified by Air France.

People familiar with this transaction said Air Namibia managing director Mandi Samson was informed this week by Westair via a letter of the purchase of the four planes, and that from now on Air Namibia had to pay them. A source said that from the end of this month, Air Namibia would be leasing from Westair.

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