I still support Air Namibia

Jackie Wilson Asheeke

I won’t apologize for my years of support for Air Namibia. My long background in the tourism industry has always made me see the national airline’s true value. This national debate about the airline’s future needs to hear from different points of view.

I have said for many years to those screaming for the closure of the airline, that there is no money savings in the short and medium term in precipitously closing down Air Namibia. The leases and outstanding bills for the airline are government guaranteed. They have to be paid by the Namibian tax payer whether the airline flies or not. Finally, that truth is making the rounds in various newspaper articles and conversation groups.

Another statistic that floats around is the one-sided huge number in billions of dollars that the Government has invested in having a national airline since Independence. Show the other side of the figure! Air Namibia brings in tourists on direct flights from Frankfurt. And tourists coming in, mean more jobs in the industry. What is the value of that figure since independence juxtaposed against what has been invested in the airline?

Over the years, documents like the tourism satellite account reports have given justifications and Return on Investment figures for the existence of Air Namibia. But, those points are not well known. Let me throw a few things at you.

Political interference in the business of Air Namibia for decades has wasted money.

Nonsensical flights to Ghana or Nigeria and other destinations over the past 30 years had no business case, but a political one. They cost money with no business returns and increased debt.

The law suit left unattended for nearly 15 years has now exploded – historical debt and other unsettled legal matters weigh the company down. This is not a quality airline service issue.

Look at the horrible persecution of past MDs of the airline that ate up millions and left the airline rudderless. This was because a minister did not want a particular person to be the MD. Such stalemates hurt good people, damaged the airline and ran up the bailout bill.

I am no expert on leasing contracts but I am unsure what legal advice and economic forecasting went into agreeing to huge monthly payments in hard currency. Doesn’t the Attorney General oversee such contracts with state funds? That monster business error, doesn’t mean Air Namibia is useless as a quality air service provider.

The cost of aviation fuel will bedevil ANY airline flying long haul from Europe to Namibia. It is expensive and it must be paid in fluctuating hard currency. The same goes for the insurance and maintenance schedules that also must be paid in US dollars. There is no way around this. Blaming Air Namibia for this is disingenuous.

I never understood why the Airports Company (an SOE) charges commercial rates to Air Namibia (an SOE). Why is government paying out of one pocket into another? Greater minds than mine need to grapple with that one. The result is a huge debt to NAC that AN will never pay. It makes insolvency loom closer. Closing AN will not pay NAC’s bills faster.

Another point to look at is that without Air Namibia we have surrendered sovereignty of our skies to the troubled South African Airlines and British Air. There is West Air, Condor and Euro wings (supposedly…we’ll see after the pandemic fury). But they are run by the interests of their investors, not necessarily the needs of the Namibian people.

As I predicted when there was so much premature cheering about the arrival of KLM, Ethiopia Airlines and Qatar Airways – their long term business models have flights pass through Namibia (Namibia is NOT their route destination). I remain unconvinced that they will remain in this market even when the travel bans are lifted. Let us see.

Call me paranoid, but I have always wondered over the years, if those owning shares in these other airlines or those who are perpetually anti-government for historical reasons, are behind the 30 year push to get rid of Air Namibia.

Air Namibia tickets do not represent economic leakage away from the Namibian economy. Myopic people who still make that decade’s old, tired, erroneous claim that no money from overseas tourism is spent in Namibia, need to do their homework. The Bank of Namibia released a report (December 2019) that closes the door on this subject.

In this pandemic, do you think SAA or BA would send planes to pick-up stranded Namibians without prepayment at commercial, hard currency rates? Of course not.

As a realist, I know I am nearly a lone voice on the prairie in my unpopular support for Air Namibia. But, there should always be two sides in a debate. I am trying to offer another view for consideration during the stampede to Air Namibia’s last round-up.

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