Westair denies Geingos, Jooste links

11 March 2021 | Transport

OGONE TLHAGE

WINDHOEK

Westair has denied being linked to First Lady Monica Geingos, saying she does not own any shareholding in the company.

It also refuted allegations that public enterprise minister Leon Jooste was a shareholder or stood to benefit after Air Namibia’s liquidation.

Geingos had been linked to Westair because of her previous position as managing director of private equity firm Stimulus.

Setting the record straight, Westair MD Henri van Schalkwyk said while Geingos had formerly held shareholding through the fund, Stimulus had since long severed its ties with Westair.

“In the early 2000s, Stimulus bought into Westair Maintenance. That equity stake was exited in 2008. From 2008 to date, there has been no equity stake held in Westair by Stimulus. Ms Kalondo, as she was known then, exited in 2008,” said Van Schalkwyk.

Westair Maintenance was subsequently bought out by a former director of the company and renamed Skycore Maintenance, Van Schalkwyk said.

Van Schalkwyk also said it was definitely not true that minister Jooste would benefit from Air Namibia’s demise. Jooste had previously denied owning shares in Westair.

Abrupt liquidation a shock

Van Schalkwyk said Air Namibia’s liquidation was not good for the aviation industry in general.

“Air Namibia had a combination of problems. The liquidation of Air Namibia was not to benefit Westair. The liquidation will benefit the country, not Westair,” Van Schalkwyk said.

“We didn’t expect government to pull the plug so suddenly. We don’t have any political support,” he added.

The government filed for voluntary liquidation of Air Namibia because of the airline’s precarious financial position. Its liabilities currently stand at N$5.1 billion while its assets stand at just over N$1 billion.

Belgian company Challenge Air and the Namibia Airports Company have both also filed for its liquidation.

Van Schalkwyk dismissed notions that Air Namibia was sacrificed for Westair’s growth.

“Such statements are definitely not true. If you look at the macro-scale, 70% of the routes have not returned. We are sitting with an indefinite problem. South African Airways is still on the ground, Comair [operator of British Airways in southern Africa] just resumed recently,” Van Schalkwyk said.

“The industry is in a critical position,” he added.

Cannibalism innuendos denounced

Westair did not contribute to the failure of Air Namibia by competing with it on the same routes, Van Schalkwyk pointed out.

He said Westair had looked at introducing flights to Rundu and Katima Mulilo in the past, but the market did not justify such services at that stage.

Air Namibia had operated flights to Rundu and Katima Mulilo from Windhoek’s Eros Airport prior to its liquidation.

Westair has now introduced flights to these two destinations and Van Schalkwyk admitted it would fill the gap left by Air Namibia if market conditions allowed in future.

He added that Westair was not standing in line to buy Air Namibia’s Embraer aircraft. Westair operates a fleet of six Embraer aircraft.

Wait and see

According to Van Schalkwyk, Westair’s fortunes depend on the state of the economy.

“The market has not recovered yet; there are not enough people flying to Ondangwa, for example, so we are dependent on what is happening in the economy,” Van Schalkwyk said.

“Our advantage is that we are flexible, take decisions quickly; we react quickly to problems.”

Westair’s commitment was to reinvest in Namibia, he said.

“We want to commit to Namibia. We want to be instrumental in the tourism revival plan. We had planned a safari route that was supposed to launch last year May but it’s in hibernation,” he said.

“On the corporate social responsibility side, it is important to transfer skills but we can only do that if we are in existence,” he said.

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