10 June 2019

Namibia: Air Namibia Cuts Down On Routes

Photo: Rolf Wallner /Wikpedia
Air Namibia plane (file photo).

AIR Namibia has had to suspend a number of southern African regional flights due to the unavailability of three Airbus planes.

The planes cannot be released to the airline until it settles its account with South African Airways Technical (SAAT).

SAAT is the maintenance service provider for Air Namibia's A319 fleet, of which only one out of the four which make up the fleet is currently serviceable.

In a confidential memorandum on 29 May 2019 to works executive director Willem Goeiemann, Air Namibia interim chief executive officer Xavier Masule said SAAT had indicated that they will not release, perform the required maintenance work, or accept any Air Namibia aircraft into their hangars until the company's account was settled.

According to the letter, Air Namibia made a N$19 million payment to SAAT in April this year, and was set to make another N$6,9 million payment last week. However, Air Namibia claims that SAAT will only service the aircraft currently in their possession if the company commits to paying a minimum of N$20 million.

"The information shared herein is for noting, and also seeking assistance to the speedy facilitation of payment of a further N$20 million towards SAAT during the first week of June 2019," Masule wrote.

He noted that this arrangement presents consequential risks to the company's operations.

With only one aircraft in service, Air Namibia has suspended all flights on its Windhoek to Luanda route, reduced the Windhoek to Johannesburg flights from three to one per day, and will reduce the flights to Cape Town from three to two per day.

Masule explained that passengers scheduled to fly to Luanda will be placed on TAAG (Angolan Airlines), using a revived codeshare agreement.

"The situation described above will affect our ability to fulfil our schedule, and as a result, we have changed our regional schedule," he stated.

"If the aircraft should on any day develop a technical problem, the entire regional operation will be shut down; all flights to Johannesburg and Cape Town," Masule added.

The national airline's spokesperson, Paul Nakawa, yesterday confirmed that they are struggling to get the aircraft back because their accounts are frozen.

"We are in a crisis. We do have money, but our accounts have been frozen due to the ongoing court case in Belgium," he said.

Air Namibia is fighting liquidated Belgian airline, Challenge Air, in Germany's courts.

Nakawa added that although the government has been helping them all these years, he is not sure whether they would assist them again this time, and that this question should be referred to Goeiemann. The latter, however, did not answer his phone or respond to text messages sent to him.

Public enterprises minister Leon Jooste yesterday confirmed the situation, saying they had appealed to the finance ministry on Friday for payments to be made to get the aircraft back.

He said the funds will be part of the airline's budget, and there would be no additional funds given to enable Air Namibia to restore their operations.

Meanwhile, the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) has expressed disappointment that the airline chose not to communicate with them on the situation it is facing.

In a statement, the NCCI said as prime partners whose members use Air Namibia's services frequently, they should have been informed on time of the developments.

"Both the management and board never engaged us in this regard as one of their key stakeholders, and we have learnt all this through word of mouth. Thus, we do not have confidence in both the management and board of Air Namibia. Their actions are a disservice to our members, and to all customers of Air Namibia.

"If Air Namibia cannot operate, what is it there for?"

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