Air Namibia has been forced to curtail its network operations as a result of a lack of aircraft. The state-backed carrier has been experiencing cash flow problems as a direct result of an unsettled EUR25 million (USD28.3 million) claim filed by the liquidator of defunct Belgian carrier Challengair (1I, Brussels National).
The letter from Air Namibia’s interim chief executive Xavier Masule to the Ministry of Works and Transport’s executive director, Willem Goeiemann, that was leaked to the local press this past weekend, three out of Air Namibia’s four A319-100s are currently grounded given a lack of funds to pay for their maintenance.
At present, V5-ANK (msn 3586), which is leased from Deucalion Aviation Funds, has been in Larnaca, Cyprus since January this year while the two Air Namibia-owned jets V5-ANN (msn 5400) and V5-ANM (msn 5366) have been stuck at Johannesburg O.R. Tambo since March 24 and June 2 respectively. As it stands, only A319 V5-ANL (msn 3346) is available for regional African flights.
In his letter, Masule told Goeiemann that in order to secure the release of the two A319s from SAA Technical (SAAT) in Johannesburg, Air Namibia needs government assistance to the tune of NAD20 million Namibian dollars (USD1.33 million).
“During April 2019, a payment of NAD19 million was made to SAAT, a further NAD6.9 million will be paid to them by 31 May 2019. SAAT will be in a position to reconsider and allow the provision of required services if we make another substantial payment for minimum NAD20 million with a commitment on how the balance will be settled,” an excerpt of the letter published by New Era said.
Concerning V5-ANK, Air Namibia must pay the Cypriot MRO firm NAD5.1 million (USD340,000) for it to be released. Once done, it will have to be ferried to Johannesburg to SAA Technical where its CFM International CFM56-5B6/Ps will have to undergo a change. However, SAAT has indicated it would not carry out the required work until Air Namibia has settled V5-ANM and V5-ANN’s accounts.
The resulting narrowbody deficit has forced Air Namibia to suspended a number of regional African routes effective June 3. Among the routes that have been temporarily dropped include Windhoek Int’l to Luanda (Angola), with affected passengers transferred to TAAG Angola Airlines, while the Windhoek-Johannesburg route has been scaled down to daily from the previous 3x daily. In addition, Windhoek-Cape Town has been cut from 3x to 2x daily. One of the services will be operated with an ERJ while the other will be operated with the A319 albeit via Walvis Bay.
“The risk associated with this arrangement is one where if the aircraft [i.e. the sole remaining A319] should, on any day, develop a technical problem, the entire regional operation will be shut down (all flights to JNB and CPT). The further risk relates to the fact that SAAT is the maintenance service provider on this fleet, and they might not be in a position to attend to the aircraft – as is the case with our other A319 aircraft,” the interim CEO warned.
In a follow-up statement to the Namibian press, Air Namibia spokesman Paul Nakawa confirmed the aircraft groundings.
“Due to the ongoing court case by Challenge Air, Air Namibia’s funds have been frozen in Europe and this has caused a severe liquidity problem at the airline,” he told New Era.
Nakawa added in an emailed statement to ch-aviation that “the situation is under control and we are optimistic that the Ministry of Works will process the payment in due course.”
For his part, Minister of Works and Transport John Mutorwa has since told the Afrikaans daily Republikein that “the bleeding at Air Namibia is very severe” and that the Treasury Cabinet Committee had discussed, but ultimately rejected, the airline’s closure among other possible solutions.
Aside from the A319s, Air Namibia also operates two A330-200s, four E135s, and one E145 (wet-leased from Westair Aviation).