Air Namibia and the Ministry of Works and Transport are currently busy assessing the viability of scheduled flights from Windhoek to Ruacana, The Patriot has learnt.
The airline has proposed that the ministry sanctions the plan and to allow Air Namibia full control of the underutilised facility.
In a letter dated 5 October 2018, seen by The Patriot, to the Works and Transport Ministry Permanent Secretary Willem Goeiemann, Air Namibia Acting Managing Director Mandi Samson has asked the PS for a possible conversion of Ruacana Airport to commercial services.
“We have been approached by the public with request to operate to other parts of the Northern region to allow for easier movement. We have spillage due to high demand on this route, as our mandate is to provide easy access transport to the nation.
We are looking into operating to Ruacana Airport. However, the airport needs an upgrade and renovations to accommodate our aircraft while ensuring safety for all.
We appeal to your good office to assist with the necessity requirements for the upgrade of the Ruacana Airport,’ reads the letter.
Air Namibia is currently operating 17 flights from Ondangwa per week and the airline believes an extension of Ruacana domestic route will meet the public’s growing demand.
It remains unclear as to why Air Namibia wants to manage the Ruacana Airport instead of Namibia Airports Company which manages all major airports in the country. The two key domestic aviation stakeholders have not had the coziest of relationships in recent years, with NAC taking issue with the fact that the airline is not settling its airport utilization bills, while on the other hand the airline feels the airports are not managed efficiently.
At the same time, while the Namibia Airports Company (NAC) has asked for funds to patch holes at HKIA to avoid failing the audit, The Patriot has learned that funds from key capital projects will be shifted for the emergency fix.
The ministry’s Public Relations officer Julius Ngweda confirmed receipt of the letter saying the ministry will first have to consult Cabinet before any decision is taken.
“The Ruacana Airport is one of our good airports, but sadly underutilized. The runway itself is in good condition and even the fence is in place. So the area that we are going to look at is the terminal and looking into facilities that the airport will need,” said Ngweda.
Ngweda emphasised that the geographic location will be key for movements from the Angolan borders and locals who will now no longer need to drive from Ondangwa. The ministry will be sending a team in the coming weeks to the airport to do inspection and assess priority upgrades that the airport needs.
Capital projects to be sacrificed
Reliable sources said the ministry plans to shift money from other capital projects, however Ngweda is adamant that no projects will be put on hold or abandoned.
“There is no project which has been put on hold because funds have to be transferred to Ruacana and there won’t be a need to do so. We are not thinking of stopping any projects at all,” Ngweda said, adding that NAC has already received the money.
However, an impeccable source has revealed that money will be shifted from long overdue projects seeing as the procurement process for rehabilitation is still ongoing and by the time it is concludes, the next financial year would have commenced to cover the hole.
No HKIA downgrade threats
In light of the looming ICAO audit, NAC said the necessary security upgrades at the HKIA to meet the security audit that will be conducted in a months’ time are underway.
In March this year, Airports Council International (ACI) in collaboration with Airports Excellence (APEX) completed its first ever Safety audit programme at HKIA. This audit was a follow up to the Security Management audit that took place from the 11 -15 December 2017.
The voluntary audits were done to prepare NAC for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) airport security audits provisionally slated for the last quarter of 2018.
While the news of the audit might have created the impressions that the airport is on the brink of another downgrade as it was the case in 2014, NAC marketing officer Dan Kamati said there are no downgrade threats as the entire audit is focused on security and not on safety.
“This is a test that will assess security at the airport. They will check into things like whether the scanner is working and if they are able to detect explosives. They will look at our security personnel- are they aware of things that they are supposed to know ?
How do people report crime and all the security aspects?”
“We cannot be downgraded for security so this must be made clear. We were downgraded in 2014, because of safety and not security,” said Kamati.
On 11 October, last week the Minister of Finance Calle Schlettwein granted NAC exemption to invoke emergency procurement for the much overdue upgrade at the Hosea Kutako International Airport to the tune of N$95 million. The budget is allocated as follows : alterations in the check-in area (N$2, 2 million), installation of overhead baggage feeder conveyor and conveyor belts (N$9 million), additional counters and desks (N$7 million), passenger screening equipment (N$6 million) and special airport systems (N$5,6 million). The remainder is allocated towards lighting, IT systems, signage, utilities and other operational requirements.
With the NAC already having being in the know that the inspection was bound to take place next month, it is not clear why the patching of potholes has to be done so closely to the inspection date.
Be that as it may, NAC has vowed to comply to meet the necessary security test.
“We reiterate that for the expected ICAO security audit, NAC will be part of the audit process and therefore we are working hand in hand with the NCAA, in its capacity as the Aviation Security designated appropriate authority and all other concerned stakeholders to identify areas of improvement as well as, where appropriate, the corrective action to be implemented at the airport level, said Kamati.
“Downgrade can only emanate from a Safety Audit and in this case it is the sole responsibility of Namibia Civil Aviation Authority in its capacity as the designated civil Aviation Authority.
We remain confident that issues, related to airport operations, will be addressed in time” he said.