Regional air traffic in limbo

Transport Commission term expired

15 September 2020 | Transport

Windhoek • NMH

Regional airlines that carried thousands of passengers between Windhoek, Johannesburg and Cape Town before Corona restrictions, are facing payment difficulties.
Based on a proposed rescue plan, South African Airways (SAA) needs around R10.3 billion to resume flight operations. Comair, that operates British Airways flights to Namibia, has been trying to avert bankruptcy since 5 May, while the SA Express is due to be legally dissolved on 28 October.
Air Namibia cannot pay its creditors either and the airline has not yet announced when it will resume regional and long-haul flights.
Air Namibia submitted a “good business plan” to government, but it could not be implemented due to the costs involved, said public enterprise minister Leon Jooste: “We cannot simply ignore the company’s debts. In addition, the plan was drawn up before Covid-19 and the effects of the pandemic were therefore not taken into account.”
After Air Namibia had informed the Transport Commission in May that N$ 8 billion would be required to guarantee the company’s solvency, its flight licence was revoked due to the threat of bankruptcy. Air Namibia obtained an injunction in July, annulling the Commission’s decision.
Commission chairperson Eldorette Harmse, confirmed that the commission’s term of office expired on 31 August and that the minister of transport John Mutorwa has not yet made any new appointments.
According to insiders from the aviation industry, this also affects airline companies that want to make changes to their licences.
Based on this, FlyWestair, for example, submitted an application for specialised repatriation flights when the lockdown came into force.
Fred Riveiro of FlyWestair said two days ago that the private Namibian airline is currently only focusing on repatriation flights.
In the meantime, the resumption of normal air traffic between Namibia and South Africa is still uncertain.
Also, based on media reports, the private South African airline FlySafair has applied for a licence for three weekly flights from Johannesburg to Windhoek. Managing director of SA Airlink, Rodger Foster, also said that while SA Airlink is allowed to operate up to 26 flights to Namibia per week, the agreed routes are limited. “That is why on 17 September we will apply to the International Aviation Council for an extension,” Foster said.
SA Airlink previously flew from Cape Town via Walvis Bay to Windhoek and back.
Speaking to Gitta Paetzold of the Hospitality Association of Namibia, she compared the current attempts to stimulate tourism with a marathon: “We are on the home straight, but the last few meters are going to be the toughest.”
The greatest challenge is to get everyone on the same page. Clear guidelines are needed, which need to be shared internationally. “Many countries do not know what we are doing, so they are not lifting travel warnings.”
However, after the Ethiopian Airlines first landed last Friday, they learned a lot and are now working on the flow.

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