The acquisition of a new long-haul type has been given extra urgency for Air Namibia's new management as it faces a barrage of complaints from disgruntled travellers on its only intercontinental route between the Namibian capital Windhoek and Frankfurt and London.
The carrier has acquired an Airbus A330-200 on partial wet and drylease from Swedish charter company Novair, to replace its Boeing 747-400 Combi on this route. However, the aircraft is configured as an all-economy class 372-seater, with no first or business class for the 10h non-stop sector between Frankfurt and Windhoek.
Managing director Gernot Riedel understands the frustration of passengers at the lack of a premium service, but says the deal with Novair is an interim arrangement and is scheduled to last only until the end of January. "We have decided in all probability to acquire an A330-200 or -300 on lease, and that would be in a two-class configuration, business and economy, for a maximum of 300 passengers." He adds that a second aircraft may be considered later.
Riedel confirms that negotiations are under way with Airbus, but insists that all options remain open. Nevertheless, a recent contract signed by Airbus and South African Airways, together with the setting up of a maintenance facility at Johannesburg International Airport, has enhanced the likelihood of Airbus winning in Namibia. It will give Air Namibia the opportunity to have the aircraft maintained nearby at more economical rates than if they had to be serviced in Europe. Meanwhile, the 747-400 Combi, with Air Namibia titles painted out, is standing idle at Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek awaiting a response from Air Gabon to a proposed seven-year sublease agreement.
Another issue yet to be resolved is Air Namibia's partial privatisation. Although plans by South African regional carrier SA Airlink to acquire a 40% stake were scuppered by union opposition, Riedel says the plan to privatise remains.
"At this point we are still working on a business plan, which we will submit to Cabinet early next year," he says, confirming that the formulation of the new plan is being assisted by South African multinational group ExecuJet, which is also seeking a 40% stake.
The mooted closure of Windhoek's Eros Airport has also generated local media interest. Riedel says that all international services are to be transferred to Hosea Kutako, with domestic services, charter flights and general aviation remaining at Eros.
GÜNTER ENDRES WINDHOEK
Source: Airline Business