Air Namibia Abruptly Shuts Down

As someone with part of their heart in Africa and a fascination with rail and air transport across that magnificent continent, I was very sad to learn that 75 year old Air Namibia is no more. Today, 636 staff lost their jobs, as the Namibian flag carrier was put into liquidation by it’s only shareholder, the country’s government. The staff will be reportedly paid 12 months salary as severance but receive no benefits.

Air Namibia had been advertising Valentine’s Day Specials just two days ago. The website is no longer taking bookings.

Four A319-100s, two A330-200s and four EMB-135ERs had been operating to seven domestic and 11 international destinations in Angola, Botswana, Germany, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Its international hub was Windhoek Hosea Kutako International Airport and for domestic flights: Windhoek Eros Airport.

People have been quick to blame COVID for this collapse but the story is older and much more complex. There has been claims the airline has been trading while insolvent since October. This had been part of an ongoing legal dispute with the estate of former Belgian lessor Challenge Air over outstanding payments on a 1998 debt stemming from the lease of a Boeing 767-300 (ER). A payment of $US6 million was due in 18th February which the government has been opposing citing unaffordability. Liquidation reportedly prevents Challenge Air from seizing any of Air Namibia’s assets

The airline’s board resigned in early February after the government supported an application in the Namibian High Court to have the airline liquidated.

Air Namibia was a small carrier with a long history having started in November 1946, as South West Air Transport (SWAT). This is why it’s IATA designator was SW. It charged names and ownership several times before becoming the country’s flag carrier in 1987. It has been fully government owned since 2013.

With the loss of South African last year, this significantly isolates Namibia. There is probably a very good market opening. Ethiopian has been negotiating with the South African government but progress appears to be slow.

Could a nimble operator come in and grab a foothold in Southern Africa?

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