Sunday 20 June 2021
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Tsumeb airport lockdown

The deadline for the closure of the Tsumeb airport is looming and should government fail to reach an out of court settlement with the current leaseholder, Expedite Aviation, the facility will be closed permanently next Friday. This will be a total closure of the facility and will subsequently prohibit landing of any aircraft including Emergency Flights and those of GATS (Government Air Transport Services), which facilitates the flights of the President Hage Geingob. The latter uses the facility often when visiting his farm. The airport belonged to TCL mine before it was procured at a cost of N$250 000 by the municipality through a public-private partnership (PPP) treaty with the local investor, whereby both parties had agreed to jointly develop, administer and run the airport. The Public Private Partnership (PPP) between the Tsumeb Municipality and Expedite Aviation Close Corporation was signed August 2009 and after 7 years the termination of the contract was initiated by the municipality to enable the transfer of the Tsumeb airport back to TM with the support of central government and to place the Tsumeb airport under the probable jurisdiction of Namibia Airports Company (NAC). A 2016 report titled “Tsumeb Airport New Infrastructure Value Determination”, seen by The Patriot, contains information indicating that the investments made by the private aviation firm. This was after the municipal council has realised the need for Tsumeb to have another port of entry as a way to develop and diversify its economy. The under-utilised airport was at times used by the previous owners as a grazing field for horses. If closed, the situation could have a devastating effect on the local tourism industry, because without this facility medium to light aircraft that escort tourists to lodges and other hospitality places in northern Namibia will not have the fuel endurance to reach their destinations. About 60 percent of foreign tourists use light aircraft-travel to tour the country and closure of the airport could place a heavy strain on aviation operators when it comes to providing aviation services.
Aviation sources told The Patriot that the closure of the airport will have negative effects on the general civil aviation industry particularly in northern Namibia, and the fact that none of the light aircrafts will reach lodges in the north, neither shall it be accessible to the Jet A1 and Avgas. The partnership deal between government and the private aviation firm took a dive when Cabinet ordered Ministry of Works and Transport last year to terminate the partnership contract entered into between the Tsumeb municipality and Expedite Aviation to allow Namibia Airports Company to assume control. Cabinet had at the time setup a committee to spearhead the takeover process. Expedite Aviation took over the airport as a maintenance partner and has since upgraded the  facility from a point of mere existence,  into a certified port of entry which was duly registered and certified at the Namibian Directorate Civil Aviation. However the Tsumeb Municipality reportedly failed to commit its share which was supposed to be used to upgrade the runway among other and shared responsibilities in the renovation of the facility. Things later turned sour when the municipality allegedly failed to meet with the financial need of the project. The investor has, however, made some significant investment through the establishment of a terminal, hangars and the provision of basic services, such as fuel and lubricants to clients landing at the airport. Sources also told The Patriot that the fact that the airport was being managed by a private operator posed a serious security risk especially to the safety of President.  It is reported that the 50-year partnership contract was terminated unceremoniously by government who have been refusing to compensate the operator for his investment in the project, leaving the business partner with huge exposure in investment.  This same agreement is also applied between Tsumeb Town Council and another businessman[name withheld] in Tsumeb, in the renovation and upgrade of the Tsumeb Caravan park and surrounding facility.
Contacted for comment, Expedite Aviation owner Rainier Arangies told this reporter that he respected government’s rationale for transferring the airport to Namibia Airports Company (NAC) but he demanded fair compensation as was supported by an consultant Aviation Expert appointed by Tsumeb Town Council as agent in this matter. The same report applauded the Tsumeb Airport as a very successful setup and that PPP agreements of such nature is an effective way to sustain smaller aviation facilities and infrastructure in Namibia. He however stressed that he had no intention at any point to drag government to court but indicated that he had since relocated his operations as well as his aircraft fleet of several helicopters, Jets and fixed wing aircraft to alternative bases. Arangies declined to comment any further noting that the matter is sub judice. The airport has one runway, which measures around 1 470 metres and will be administered by the Namibian Airports Company (NAC), which will be responsible for its upgrade to international standards depending on the size of the airport and its specification should government complete the takeover.

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