Dear editor, please allow me a space in your daily newspaper to share my thoughts on how we might rescue our aviation industry in Namibia.
I am a retired politician, who served as a regional councillor on the Otjozondjupa Regional Council, elected from the Okakarara constituency for 15 years between 2004-2020.
I am not an expert in the aviation industry – but as a frequent flyer of Air Namibia, I developed love, passion and empathy for aviation over the years. As a result, I have been following various discussions on Air Namibia and publications on local and global aviation administration; all these efforts to educate myself on how the aviation businesses operate.
My objective with this article is to share my understanding with fellow Namibians, political leaders and mostly our government on how we can empower the local aviation and tourism industry to become resilient to any economic crisis with the hope that this action might turn our parastatals into profitable entities contributing to the national treasury, rather than just being bailed out or depending on government funding.
It is fact that the tourism sector is one of the biggest contributors to our national economy or GDP but we need to ask ourselves the following questions to get a better understanding of the chained impact of a tourist on the local economy at different levels:
• How does a tourist get into and out of the country?
• Where do they stay after disembarking from the flight?
• How do they get to their destination within the country?
• Who receives and hosts them?
• Where do they spend money while they are in-country?
Although tourists are arriving with different international airlines into our country in my view Air Namibia as the national airline might ensure the biggest pivotal role in bringing in tourist and cargo in the long run because foreign carriers will only persist with their operations for as long as the market and environment is lucrative for their business.
Should a situation arise, whereby the country is facing an economic crisis and demand slows down, they will withdraw their routes at any given time. Various studies have shown that the alliagance is all about profit; if there aren’t any, they leave with immediate effect - like they did in our neighbouring country, Angola, which resulted in a high number of locals being left stranded or unemployed.
Therefore, as a country, I strongly believe that we must think out of the box and come up with restructuring strategies that might turnaround our national airline to get it back in the sky - where it belongs.
My view is that In Namibia, we have Namibia Airport Company (NAC), Air Namibia, TransNamib, Namibia Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Namibia Tourism Board and the Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR); all these institutions operate in silos each with their challenges and opportunities. In my opinion, we as the country failed to benchmark with other advanced countries during the initial stage of turning these institutions into individual parastatals.
A proper study was supposed to be carried out to come up with suitable models corresponding to the peculiarities of our economy, population, geographical location, weakness and strength that we have.
We might have been very quick to jump into dividing all these directorates, turning them into state own enterprises accelerated with huge salaries, balloon human resources structures and limited knowledge on how to govern some of these government enterprises.
My suggestions are:
• There is a need for amalgamation of all the above mentioned state-owned companies into one company that will be called Namibia Aviation and Tourism Company (NATC).
• This company will govern and administer the duties of civil aviation, airport, airline, rail and tourism Industry in Namibia with one set board of board members, one CEO, one executive manager per each directorate with one human resource and finance department.
• This means when Air Namibia is making use of the local airports they will not be expected to pay any landing/take-off fees as they will because they are part of NATC, which will be the custodian of all the facilities.
• The catering services from our airports will have to handle Namibia Wildlife Resorts directorate at a very reasonable price incorporated within the customers’ ticket.
• This company will also own the ticketing company responsible for bookings of its flights and partner airlines.
• The government will institute a small levy for each resorts booking and tickets that will be used to pay for the acquisition and hiring of aircraft.
• All government-private Jets pool will be transferred to Namibia Aviation and Tourism company (NATC).
• Namcor will be hired to supply aircraft fuel to NATC.
I am confident that should our government consider this strategy it will be saving enormously on high board members payments and other general services cost. Currently, the government has been paying for more than one SOE board members, with this proposal of an umbrella company with different directorates it will be downsized to one board member only.
As a result of the combination of directorates, the total staff members will drastically reduce as well which may lead to huge cost reduction. Early exit voluntary exit option should also be considered for those 50 plus years old.
This exercise might open employment for the young vibrant graduates with fresh ideas to take up positions in the newly established company NATC.
In addition to the above-mentioned, the Ministry of Enterprises, Ministry of Works and Transport, Ministry of Environment and Tourism, National Planning Commission and Ministry of Finance must appoint a team of consultants that will conduct further research studies and benchmarking with other countries in order to design a business model that will be suitable for Namibia.
I conclude the liquidation of Air Namibia will have a huge and negative impact on the country with more serious consequences. The country reputation will be damaged beyond repair in terms of financial impact, negative socio-economic aspects and negative political implications. We must have learned from what happened in the fishing industry and that action must not be repeated in the aviation industry.
Removing the airline from the local aviation equation might weaken the country sovereignty and by default placing this important role in the hands of foreign carriers.