Westair shakes up aviation sector

Jooste denies links to Air Namibia's competitor

12 June 2019 | Transport

An announcement by privately owned Westair Aviation that it will start offering passenger flights from Windhoek to Oranjemund and Ondangwa could put further pressure on the flailing Air Namibia.

Westair has been granted designated carrier status by the National Transport Commission of Namibia, which makes it an official scheduled passenger airline with flights to various destinations domestically and in the subregion under the brand name FlyWestair.

Its first route will be three scheduled flights per week from Eros Airport in Windhoek to Oranjemund, starting on 24 June.

Other routes to be included are flights to Cape Town (from Oranjemund and Windhoek), Walvis Bay, Ondangwa, and Johannesburg.

Local flights on these routes are planned to start from July, and regional flights will start from August, subject to service agreements with authorities and service providers.

“Given the economic gravity of companies operating from Oranjemund, there is definitely a need to increase the accessibility and flights to Oranjemund that will benefit the economy and industry for Oranjemund and the country at large,” said Wolfgang Grellmann, chairperson of the Westair Group.

He said Ondangwa is the most frequented destination, indicative of the government's investment in the airport there.





Grellmann said Westair has a fleet of 50-seat Embraer 145 aircraft and a maintenance facility at Eros Airport that can do heavy maintenance and line maintenance on regional jet aircraft.

Through Signa Aviation Services, Westair has also created local capacity to train pilots for its operations. Public enterprises minister Leon Jooste yesterday said he has no interest in Westair as alleged in the local media. He also said denied that there was a “concerted effort” to kill Air Namibia to benefit the private airline.

In 2017, The Patriot reported allegations of a “well-crafted conspiracy”, which allegedly included cabinet ministers, aimed at deliberately ensuring that Air Namibia would remain dependent on leasing aircraft at exorbitant amounts.

This was after reports had surfaced that Westair had reportedly bought almost half of Air Namibia's fleet from Air France Regional. The newspaper's sources claimed that Jooste and finance minister Calle Schlettwein were aware of the deal.



Implications for Air Namibia

This new arrangement makes Westair the second scheduled service operator in the country, the other being Air Namibia, which is buckling under increasing financial woes and a crippling N$400 million lawsuit. Grellmann said Westair has always had a close working relationship with the national airline and has leased aircraft on an Aircraft, Crew, Maintenance, and Insurance (ACMI) basis to Air Namibia on a semi-permanent basis for the last 18 months.

This lease agreement expired at the end of May.

As for the implications these developments may have for the limping national airline, Grellmann said: “FlyWestair's entrance to the market will serve the local economy and support Air Namibia in developing the sector to make Namibia more competitive in a competitive industry dominated by foreign operators.”



Air Nam's woes pile up

Air Namibia's interim CEO, Xavier Masule, at the end of May informed the works ministry that the airline's flights between Windhoek and Luanda had been suspended, that its flight rotations to Johannesburg had been reduced from three to one per day, and the Cape Town flights to two per day.

This was done because only one of the airline's Airbus A319 planes is operational at the moment, while the rest of the fleet is undergoing mandatory maintenance checks. Masule appealed for a N$20 million government bailout to pay South African Airways Technical (SAAT) during the first week of June to ensure that the maintenance checks were not further delayed.

Ground-handling contract

suspended

Furthermore, Namibia Airports Company (NAC) CEO Bisey /Uirab informed Masule on 22 May that the NAC would not renew their agreement for the provision of ground-handling services to Air Namibia at Hosea Kutako International Airport (HKIA).

/Uirab wrote that Air Namibia had breached certain clauses of the agreement, including failing to pay for the services on time.

This agreement had expired on 31 October last year already, but the NAC gave Air Namibia a further six months' notice effective from 1 June to 30 November to “vacate and cease” its operations as a ground handler at HKIA.

“We are open to discussions but we are running a business,” was all /Uirab was prepared to say yesterday. /Uirab said the NAC would invite bids for ground-handling services in due course, adding that Air Namibia was more than welcome to participate in the bidding process.

CATHERINE SASMAN