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Former Air Namibia pilots still in limbo

2022-03-01  Maihapa Ndjavera

Former Air Namibia pilots still in limbo
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The majority of pilots of the now-defunct national airline had no choice but to accept contracting work outside the country when Air Namibia was forced into voluntary liquidation about a year ago. At the time that liquidation was confirmed, the Namibia Airline Pilots Association (Napa) had about 75 pilots, of whom only 20 were absorbed by the domestic aviation industry.

“The local industry, due to various issues, is in shambles, and there is only very slow progress to return the industry to pre-2021 standards. Even if some of the pilots managed to find alternative employment, their salaries, career advancement and future job security is not guaranteed in any way,” said Napa president Manuel Prenzlow.

Responding to questions from Inside Business, Prenzlow bemoaned the decision to close down the national flag carrier, saying in the past there where two serious offers to either purchase Air Namibia, or to enter into a partnership which would take over all operational matters. 

“Both offers were either ignored or refused by government. Both options would have ensured the continued success of the national airline and the associated inflow of international and regional business,” he stated.

According to Prenzlow, a shortage of pilots in Namibia was recently announced. “This has been used as an excuse to employ cheap pilots from South Africa. These pilots are paid absolute pennies and they, as foreigners, do not enjoy protection of the local labour law. They are simply expendable if they do not agree to the terms of employment offered to them”.

He added that the excuse of Covid-19 was used as a final nail in the coffin for Air Namibia. 

“As far as we are concerned, this is absolute rubbish. Most international airlines immediately changed from flying passengers to purely cargo operations. Internationally, the cargo airlines have been enjoying an absolute boom during the pandemic crisis,” explained Prenzlow.

He believes Air Namibia would have been in a perfect situation to serve the cargo industry in sub-Saharan Africa as the airline already had a well-established route into Europe, adding that the EU market would have been an extremely lucrative option for Air Namibia. 

“We have also heard South African company Airlink intends to offer domestic flights within Namibia. Similarly, Eurowings will soon offer flights between Windhoek and Victoria Falls. The Windhoek to Nelspruit route is also under consideration. The immediate question should be, how is it possible that foreign operators are being given the rights to operate in our local, domestic and regional airspace? These routes could have been covered by local airlines, using local air crew and keeping ticketing fees and other benefits within Namibia,” Prenzlow charged.

Reflecting on the progress of liquidation pay-outs, he said some Air Namibia employees have received their pension pay-outs, but there are a few who had or have a problem with the Receiver of Revenue. These range from incorrect assessments from the Receiver to outstanding or incorrect tax returns from previous years.

The Napa president continued that pilots only received the one-year ex-gratia payment, which for most ex-employees has been totally exhausted by now. More pilots approached by Inside Business declined to comment on their current living conditions, calling this a sensitive matter. 

“We have also heard that a few were forced to have their pensions paid out to ensure financial survival for the immediate future. That means their savings and planning for retirement are utterly destroyed,” stressed Prenzlow.

2022-03-01  Maihapa Ndjavera

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