Another national airline collapses as pandemic deals the final blow

Feb 11, 2021

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Another long-haul, national airline has fallen as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. On Thursday, Air Namibia announced that all flight operations have been canceled, and all aircraft have been ordered to return to its base in Windhoek.

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As reported by The Namibian, leaked documents on Wednesday showed the government’s approval of Air Namibia’s voluntary liquidation. The government will meet with executive members of the airline on Thursday afternoon to decide on the path forward and liquidation.

At this point, all flights have been canceled and the reservations system for new bookings has been suspended.

According to data from Planespotters.net, as of February 2021, the airline had a fleet of nine aircraft, including:

  • 3 Airbus A319
  • 2 Airbus A330
  • 4 Embraer ERJ-145

Given the pandemic, Air Namibia had nearly grounded its entire fleet, opting only to operate some domestic routes. As of earlier this month, just two of its ERJ-145 aircraft remained in service, while the other seven aircraft remained parked.

Prior to the pandemic, Air Namibia had operated some long-haul routes — most notably to Frankfurt (FRA), using one of its A330 aircraft. Between 1993 and 2004, the airline also operated a fleet of up to six Boeing 747 aircraft.

An Air Namibia A319. (Photo by picture alliance/Contributor/Getty Images)

The airline had long struggled to secure profitability, which was only compounded by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the uncertainty about when demand would return. Mostly owing to unprofitable routes, an undesirable fleet, high employee numbers and other ongoing issues within the company rendered it almost doomed to fail.

The airline’s board resigned on 3 February after the Namibian government didn’t oppose a move to have the airline liquidated over outstanding payments on a leased Boeing 767 aircraft from Challengair. The parties settled, with Air Namibia acknowledging it owed over 330 million Namibian dollars (about $22 million), but the government denied support to Air Namibia, saying it couldn’t afford to bail the carrier out. The airline also failed to find a strategic equity partner, according to ch-aviation.

Namibian Finance Minister Ipumbu Shiimi said a bailout of the nation’s flag carrier would cost more than 7 billion Namibian dollars (about $470 million) on top of the approximately 8.4 billion Namibian dollars (about $564 million) it had already spent on the airline in the past 10 years.

With the liquidation of the airline, more than 600 employees are set to lose their jobs. According to an airline spokesperson, employees will receive an ex gratia payment equal to 12 months of their salary, but they will not receive benefits.

The airline has instructed travelers with bookings to register their claims for refunds to refunds@airnamibia.aer or callcentre@airnamibia.aero.

Air Namibia isn’t the first airline to collapse as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Flybe collapsed in March 2020. Additionally, Virgin Australia applied for voluntary administration but was later sold to private equity firm Bain Capital. Avianca and LATAM both filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S., and Norwegian Air filed for bankruptcy protection in Ireland.

Featured photo by Vytautas Kielaitis/Shutterstock.

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