Despite Air Namibia's flagging fortunes, the airline's new managing director, Jaafar Ahmad, is confident that he can restructure and recapitalise the airline ready for privatisation within five years.

The Namibian Government brought in the Malaysian-born financier as acting managing director and chief executive of Air Namibia last November, demoting managing director Andreas Guibeb to deputy managing director. Ahmad was given the task of restructuring and recapitalising the national carrier as a state-owned company.

The government removed Air Namibia from the control of shareholder and state-holding company, TransNamib, and injected $3.5 million into the airline.

Although the amount to be privatised has yet to be determined, Air Namibia sales manager Shareen Tommasi , expects an initial stake of 26% to be hived off. This will later be increased to 49%.

Speculation points to South African Airways as a likely strategic equity partner for the airline. The pair signed a memorandum of understanding in January, covering codesharing between Johannesburg and Windhoek from 1 April, harmonisation of schedules, as well as maintenance, accounting, reservations, training and accounting links.

Lufthansa is also rumoured to be interested in a stake in the carrier.

To shape up the carrier for privatisation, "-we need to move, we need to cut and we need to add", says Ahmad. Ahmad is considering reducing the number of European services to Frankfurt and London Heathrow from five to three times weekly.

Other restructuring measures include reducing spending, limiting route expansion and reorganising the company's interdepartmental and external relationships. Ahmad refuses to specify whether this will involve laying off staff. The cost-cutting measures will enable the carrier to achieve break-even by March 2000, insists Ahmad.

Source: Airline Business