Air Namibia held back by NAC
The failure by the Namibia Airports Company (NAC) to develop airport infrastructure is unwittingly putting spanners in Air Namibia’s five-year turn-around strategy in which the airline is hoping to become profitable.
At an air transport conference in South Africa earlier this week, George Uriesi, the CEO of the Federation Airports Authority of Nigeria, said airport infrastructure development will only be realised if airport companies are commercialised or privatised because the current set-up where state-owned companies operate airports collecting taxes and passing them on to treasury instead of developing airports is not conducive to the growth of the aviation industry in Africa.
He said “The Government of South Africa was a trailblazer [in restructuring ownership of its airport company] through a strategic equity partner who was given 20% of shares along with considerable power. It has helped to turn things around at the Airports Company of South Africa.”
Air Namibia MD Theo Namases said the lack of collaboration between the two stakeholders [Air Namibia and NAC] is hindering the growth of the airline.
Namases said failure by the airports company over the past 23 years to develop modern airport infrastructure contradicts Air Namibia’s plans of making Hosea Kutako International Airport a hub for passengers travelling to regional and international destinations. She said this is so despite the involvement of the NAC when the airline formulated its strategic plan.
She said: “There must be collaboration in the country. It’s not about Namases, it’s about our country. Let’s put our energy together and make the local aviation industry a success.”
Namases questioned the role of the NAC in promoting growth in air passenger numbers crucial for economic development, international trade and growth of the tourism sector. She said she does not understood why the Namibia Airports Company, which receives about N$6 million from Air Namibia alone every month as airport fees from passengers departing at the country’s airports and for landing fees, is failing to develop or upgrade airport infrastructure. The N$6 million excludes millions paid by other airlines landing at the country’s airports.
Namases said the lack of action by NAC is frustrating given their plans and ambitions to increase the airline’s route network and passenger numbers which has seen them buying and leasing four new Airbus A319-100 aircraft and four Embrear jets as part of a fleet modernisation programme.
She also said that she does not understand NAC’s decision to operate most of the country’s airports from 08:00 to 17:00, as if these are offices. Passengers from Accra in Ghana who normally land at 04:00 a.m. are frustrated when they arrive and the airport is closed with limited facilities for them to use.
The same problem is also being experienced at the Ondangwa Airport where Air Namibia operates an evening flight on the Windhoek Ondangwa route. This flight serves mainly business people who prefer departing from Windhoek after a full day’s work and vice versa. Recently business people were up in arms over Air Namibia’s decision to increase its fare for that route, but Namases said instead of criticising the carrier, customers should understand that a large share of the ticket price goes to NAC.
She said since the airports company closes the Ondangwa Airport at 5pm, all arrivals and departures after that time are charged three times the normal landing fees. Namases said that NAC justifies the increase in fees by saying the money goes to pay their employees for working overtime. “Why do they not deploy their employees on a shift basis like other service organizations do when customers prefer service outside normal office hours,” Namases argued.
Airport taxes for Hosea Kutako Airport are also said to be amongst the highest in the region without any justification. The conveyor belt carrying passenger luggage is often broken and the carts are also very old.
As this was not bad enough, the taxes payable to newly introduced routes such as Harare, Lusaka, Accra, and also the old route of Luanda are almost 50% more than tax rates applicable for flights to Johannesburg and Cape Town. Namases questioned the rationale asking “how do you make Namibia an attractive destination if you levy such prohibitive taxes”.
“The worst part is for transit passengers who spend less than 2 hours in the airport, they are also subjected to the same heavy taxes. NAC surely needs to re-look their pricing policy and align it with the needs of the country. Competing airports such as Johannesburg have friendlier transit taxes.”
When asked about the impact of the NAC facilities on Air Namibia’s operations, the airline’s GM for Commercial Services, Xavier Masule confirmed they are inadequate and are a bottleneck. He gave an example of the 125 available seats in the departure lounge at Hosea Kutako. “This is the section after passengers have checked-in, gone through immigration and security screening where they wait to board. The Air Namibia aircraft to Frankfurt when full carries 278 passengers, which is more than double the number of seats in the lounge. Where do passengers sit?,” Masule asked. “On top of that, we have passengers in the same lounge destinated to other places on different flights. The space is simplify not enough.”