Government saves Air Namibia

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Hilka Birns/CAPE TOWN

The Namibian Government has injected N$20-million ($3.7 million) into Air Namibia and has appointed a Malaysian financier to restructure, and re-capitalise the troubled national carrier as a state-owned company.

The move takes the airline out of the control of state holding company TransNamib, which has labelled the carrier's financial position as "precarious" and damaging to its operation.

Air Namibia managing director Andreas Guibeb has been demoted to deputy managing director. Dr Jaafar Ahmed, the former Governor of the Bank of Namibia, who has also previously held posts at the International Monetary Fund and Bank Negara of Malaysia, has been appointed as acting managing director and chief executive for a renewable six-month period.

The airline says the appointment followed a Government decision to rescue Air Namibia as a "national asset and critical component in the growth and development of the Namibian economy". It says the eventual aim is to dissolve TransNamib into two partially privatised companies, Air Namibia and Namrail.

Sources close to the airline believe the Namibian Government has also blocked strategic alliance negotiations between TransNamib and German carrier Lufthansa because Air Namibia was not directly involved in the talks. Lufthansa confirms no dates for further discussions have been set. Air Namibia says it will continue to pursue strategic alliances, but will not say with whom.

Meanwhile, the carrier is said by local sources to be looking to lease three Boeing 737-200Advs for use on its routes between Johannesburg-Windhoek, Windhoek-Cape Town and services to Luanda, Harare and Victoria Falls. It is also considering leasing a wide-body aircraft. The airline says it has put out tenders for the replacement of an Ansett-owned Boeing 767 leased through bankrupt Belgian-based Challenge Air.