Air Namibia works new strategy

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HILKA BIRNS / CAPE TOWN

Air Namibia's new owners intend to finalise a business plan next month after part-privatisation of the ailing carrier by the Namibian government.

Air Namibia, which has a debt of N$1.4bn ($123 million), is expected to post a loss this year of N$521 million. The Namibian government has approved the restructuring, which will see regional airline South African Airlink paying cash for a 40% stake, privately owned Namibian aviation company Comav acquiring 15%, trade union group Labour Investment 10% and employees 10%. The state will retain 25% (Flight International, 19-25 March). South African Airways will become a 4% shareholder through its 10% stake in SA Airlink. The government will absorb the debt.

Board chairman advocate Vekuii Rukoro says a three-person transitional executive team, representing the board, labour interests and SA Airlink and Comav, will take over management of Air Namibia from 1 April until the business is transferred to the new company on 1 July. The board had found "a total mess and chaotic situation" at the airline, says Rukoro.

The new business plan is likely to include replacement of the airline's Boeing 747-400 Combi and a partnership with another airline on its only international route, Windhoek to Frankfurt. Air Namibia also has two Fokker F28s, one Boeing 737-200 leased from Safair and two EADS/Indonesian Aerospace CN235s. SA Airlink, which owns stakes in regional airlines in Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, recently grounded three of its BAe Jetstream 41s and laid off pilots after the global aviation slowdown, a 40% drop in the value of the rand and an increase in fuel and insurance costs.

In 2000, SA Airlink committed to 20 Embraer ERJ-135s plus options on 30 larger 170s. Chief executive Rodger Foster says SA Airlink will delay deliveries until conditions improve and the future of the Yamoussoukro declaration, which calls for liberalisation of air services in Africa, is better understood. Air Namibia could receive some of the ERJ-135s.