Airport downgrade a major threat

Not only the tourism sector, but the entire Namibian economy is at risk if the country's international airport loses its international status after a security audit next month.

19 October 2018 | Transport

Analysts believe that if Hosea Kutako International Airport (HKIA) is downgraded by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), it would lead to massive job losses, particularly in the tourism sector.

The other concern is that this could affect Namibia's competiveness as it moves to position itself as a logistics hub for southern Africa.

ICAO is to perform a safety and security audit of the airport in November. To prepare for the audit, the treasury recently released N$95 million to make eleventh-hour improvements at the airport.

Giving his take on developments, economist Klaus Schade says the tourism sector would be hard hit if Hosea Kutako loses its international airport status.

“The tourism sector is a labour-intensive sector that creates employment opportunities, often in very remote areas with no other opportunity to earn cash income,” he says.

A potential downgrading of HKIA would not only affect the hospitality sector, but all the other economic sectors that offer goods and services to tourists or to the tourism industry.

ICAO downgraded HKIA in 2014, forcing Air Namibia to land its Airbus 330 used on the Windhoek – Frankfurt route in Gaborone, Botswana.

Major airlines such as Qatar, KLM and Ethiopian Airlines have since started landing at the airport.

The potential downgrading would make these airlines reconsider using HKIA, Schade warns.

“While Air Namibia could make alternative arrangements and fly passengers to Gaborone where they are picked up by smaller planes, the other airlines will most likely stop flying to Windhoek until the airport is upgraded again.

“This is not only an immense loss of reputation, but an economic loss the tourism industry and wider economy will face during a time the economy is already under substantial pressure.”

Aviation expert Linden Birns, the MD of Plane Talking, says a downgrading of the airport would have far-reaching consequences for the economy.

“Given its vital and strategic function, any downgrade that curtails Hosea Kutako International Airport's operations would be detrimental to Namibia's entire economy,” Birns said. In the fourth National Development Plan, Namibia set out the ambitious goal of becoming a logistics hub for southern Africa.

The potential downgrading of the airport would curtail such plans, Birns points out.

“For the country to remain competitive and grow its increasingly diverse economy, passengers, as well as high-value imports and exports, must be able to move safely, securely and efficiently through this main international gateway,” he says.

Air Namibia has not expressed any worry though. When contacted for comment, the airline said it was positive that the situation would be managed responsibly and that it would have been informed in the event of a downgrading.

“We have no official notice on the possible downgrading of our airport. If that was the case we would have been one of the first to be informed, given that we are the major player in flights at HKIA.

“We are positive that HKIA will pass the security audit as there are positive interventions to this end,” Air Namibia spokesperson Paul Nakawa says.

OGONE TLHAGE

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