Friday 14 May 2021
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Air Namibia’s litmus test

The national airline’s tendency over the years where the tenure of the company Managing Director has come to depend, not on success or growth, but on political machinations has returned to haunt the entity.
The lack of consistent leadership has undoubtedly led to the mess at the airline. Despite becoming a recipient of multiple bailouts over the years Air Namibia still does not own a single aircraft.
The latest thorn in Air Namibia’s flesh is Namibia Civil Aviation Authority’s decision to grant West Air Aviation a license to operate domestic scheduled flights. This is surely a litmus test for the national carrier.
Air Namibia did not have any competition from private aviation companies, meaning it dominated the domestic market space. Things are about to change.
The West Air owners have deep pockets, as seen last year when they attempted to purchase the Embraer jets which Air Namibia currently leases from a French firm.
Air Namibia will not have the luxury of time to work on a turnaround plan of its choice or a funding plan, depending on the urgency of West Air’s plan for the domestic market.
The West Air owners cannot be blamed for spotting an opportunity that was borne out of the national airline’s lack of decisive leadership.

Government as shareholder should take some part of the blame as well: for it was responsible for the questionable boards appointed to carry out the oversight mandate at the institution.
Like TransNamib, Air Namibia has been treated like a little baby over the years. It remains to be seen how the airline will survive, especially when considering the precarious financial position the country finds itself in.
Government has not done much to protect the airline from private competition, a move interpreted by observers as a vote of no confidence in the operations of the airline.
But before we belittle the impact of Air Namibia on the country’s growth, we must remain cognisant of the fact that it is a key entity for our economy because it is strategically positioned to Namibia’s development goals. It would be downright foolish to dump the airline.

Government needs to either profoundly improve the governance and management of Air Namibia, which it has repeatedly failed to do, review the strategic plan of the airline to try to achieve profitability, sell off a strategic stake or enter into a win-win PPP. If not, then there is no point having a national airline because in its current form it will continue to be a burden on taxpayers.
The employees at Air Namibia must surely be protected, mainly because behind the employee statistics there are families that need to be taken care of.
Despite the huge amounts of money Air Namibia got in bailouts over the years, the last time the airline accounted for that money was in 2006. I’m sure if the Auditor General could look into the financial affairs of Air Namibia and explain to the nation (which, technically, owns the airline – the state owns it on our behalf) he would surely reveal why the airline is flying at such a low altitude.
Air Namibia has the potential to turn its fortunes around, but that can only happen if a radical paradigm shift takes place at the institution.

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