Pilots turn on MD

The Air Namibia acting MD says she is not the pilots' association president's peer when it comes to determining how to run the airline on a commercial basis.

22 February 2019 | Transport

Air Namibia pilots are questioning acting MD Mandi Samson's ability to run the airline amid an ongoing threat that planes will be impounded in Europe - the result of a massive N$400 million owed to Belgium firm Challenge Air SA.

Pilots are also concerned whether the airline will be able to pay landing and parking fees, accommodation, subsistence allowances and fuel, as Challenge Air continues to empty Air Namibia's German bank account. The concerns were raised with Samson by Namibia Airline Pilots Association (Napa) president Manuel Prenzlow in a letter dated 18 February. Samson responded by saying that mitigation strategies were in place.

This follows the publication of an article in Namibian Sun which said Air Namibia's Frankfurt-bound planes ran the risk of being impounded. This development, according to Prenzlow, is damaging Air Namibia's reputation. “The dire position that management had landed us in was dished up for the international community and rival airlines to see. Is management at all concerned about how shockingly Namibia as a destination - and Air Namibia - is portrayed to the international community via the mainstream press? Is this fulfilling the stakeholders' mandate and vision?” Prenzlow wrote. He also questioned Air Namibia's handling of an arbitration matter with Media Nova. Air Namibia and Media Nova went into arbitration after the two parties could not agree on whether or not there was a legal extension on a contract for the on-flight publication Flamingo, The Patriot reported recently.

At issue appears to be the mandate granted to former Air Namibia chief operations officer Rene Gsponer, who was appointed in 2014. Prenzlow alleged that Air Namibia's management might have a vested interest in the arbitration matter involving Media Nova.

“It is astonishing to further note that managerial staff, who we have alerted you, may have a personal, vested interest in some of the mind-bogglingly expensive litigation, (and) are the chosen ones to address the media and defend Air Namibia,” said Prenzlow.

“As our finances are bled dry due to the airline's poor handling of a massive spectrum of legal disputes - disputes the minister opined could and should have been handled very differently by means of respectful dialogue and timeous engagement - we note that management's chosen approach - inaction - is about to cost Air Namibia in excess of another N$1 million as the private arbitration against the one service provider (Media Nova) is about to commence in a week's time,” added Prenzlow.

Turning his attention to the potential attachment of Air Namibia's planes, Prenzlow asked whether the airline had a contingency plan in place.

“Are there enough finances to pay our running expenses in the EU - air navigation services, landing fees, parking fees, catering, fuel, maintenance, salaries, rent, commissions, hotel etc, whilst our banking accounts and income are attached by creditors?” said Prenzlow.

“Can we pay for the A319 aircraft that is currently being serviced in the European Union? Ms Samson, we have asked for a contingency plan and standard operating procedures, should our aircraft be grounded in the EU or anywhere else. Have you prepared anything, or is it expected of the flight crews to handle the situation on own initiative should the need arise?” he asked.

Samson in response to Prenzlow by saying the Challenge Air matter had come a long way.

“With respect to the Challenge Air matter, I can advise that this dispute arose in 1998, way before either myself or you joined this airline. Why it has not been resolved by previous administrations is not known to me, suffice to state that I took note of the matter upon my joining the airline and have been addressing it along with management since,” she said.

Samson told Prenzlow that Air Namibia was aware that its planes could be attached but said contingency plans were in place.

“The fact that an award was made against Air Namibia is a reality, which the airline has been dealing with, contingency plans do exist to cater for the situation in which there might be a grounding of the aircraft; what I can advise is that you do not use the existing situation to influence employees not to perform their duties,” she wrote.

Samson also told Prenzlow that he was stating factual inaccuracies when he said Air Namibia stood to lose money in its case against Media Nova.

“Stating that the airline stands to lose millions whether it wins or loses the arbitration matter is another factual inaccuracy which you make - it is understandable in light of the fact that you may not be conversant with the manner in which arbitrations work,” said Samson.

Samson reminded Prenzlow that they were not peers professionally.

“It is worth noting, Mr Prenzlow, that I am not your peer in determining how to run the airline on a commercial basis. For all intents and purposes, I do remain the acting MD of the airline and you an employee. The role you occupy as Napa president is one you occupy by virtue of being an employee of this airline,” she said.


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