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Airline considers terminating Embraer deal

Air Namibia finds itself in a quandary over the renewal of a lease agreement for the four Embraer ERJ 135 jets that comes to an end in three years time.

The airline’s dilemma comes at a time when it has seen growth in some of its domestic and regional routes where the aircraft is deployed resulting in passenger numbers outgrowing the aircraft’s capacity of 37 seats.
The Embraer jets, leased from Regional Airline, a subsidiary of Air France, entered Air Namibia’s fleet in 2011. The aircraft are being used in the airline’s routes to Ondangwa, Lusaka, Harare, Victioria Falls and Maun, but given the current growth and anticipated growth in these markets, the airline said the 37-seater aircraft might not be ideal for its future operations.
Xavier Masule, the General Manager for Commercial Services at Air Namibia said given the rates at which traffic levels on these routes are growing, the airline anticipates that the Embraer Jet is likely to be too small when the lease agreement comes to an end in three years’ time.
“So we need to look at slightly bigger capacity than the current 37 seats or increase frequencies on these routes,” Masule said.
Besides sweating over the size of the aircraft, the airline is also considering their suitability given their age. The average age of the aircraft is 13 years and will have increased to 16 years by the time the current lease agreement terminates in 2016.
Although the planes can still be used even after the age of 16, Masule, however, said they would have entered an age bracket associated with the risk of high maintenance costs and low levels of technical dispatch reliability.
Yet despite these concerns, the General Manager for Commercial Services at Air Namibia said the airline is overall pleased with the way the aircraft have served them since their introduction two years ago.
He said: “The Embraer ERJ 135 Regional Jets thus far have done an excellent job for Air Namibia and for the travelling public since they were introduced. They in fact managed to revolutionalize air travel in the domestic market.”
Before the introduction of the Embraer Jets, Air Namibia used to operate the Beechcraft B1900 aircraft with a capacity of 19 seats on its domestic and some of its regional routes.
Masule said the Beechcraft B1900 was at a lower standard compared to the Embraer Jets in terms of passenger comfort, speed, safety and flexibility.
“The number of passengers we carry per year in the domestic market with the Embraer is now double what we used to carry with the Beechcraft. The Embraer has managed to help cultivate and promote the culture of flying in the domestic market, and we continuously see the shift from using road transport to air transport.”
Given the Embraer ERJ 135’s size and operational costs, the jets have also been instrumental in assisting Air Namibia launch new regional routes such as Harare and Lusaka. “We are very happy with the aircraft at the moment and they are fulfilling the purpose they were brought in for,” Masule said.
He said formal studies will be undertaken on whether or not to retain the Embraer jets. “We might retain some ERJ 135’s to service some of the thin routes and get bigger planes on deserving routes. If markets grow exponentially faster, we might even deploy the Airbus A319’s we have.”
The airline said the benefits of operating newer generation aircraft are visible and they have started reaping the fruits through lower cost and high technical dispatch reliability.
“The average age of our regional and international fleet, excluding the Embraer ERJ 135 aircraft is two years, and this is having a strong and positive impact on our operations in terms of cost competitiveness, revenue generation, operational efficiencies, market confidence and customer needs satisfaction,” Masule said.

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