Air Namibia (SW) is the first relevant ‘casualty’ of the year in commercial aviation. The south-west African carrier, based in the Country capital Windhoek, was financially troubled even before the Covid pandemic and the travel bans issued all over the world to prevent the spread of the virus.
According to aerotelegraph.com, the State of Namibia (which was the sole shareholder of the airline) spent 8.4 billion Namibian Dollars or the equivalent of 465 million euros in the past ten years to keep the national carrier afloat with repeated injections of money. And in the end Air Namibia had also had high debts with lessors including Challenge Air, to which it owed 18.5 million euros.
On February 11, the announce was given through the airline Twitter feed: all flight operations were suspended with immediate effect, with all aircraft and crew due to return to the Windhoek base. Flights had already been stopped a first time in June 2020 as the Transportation Commission of Namibia had suspended the carrier’s Scheduled Air Services Licence, citing financial and safety concerns. But with the start of the Austral summer, limited operations had been reinstated using Embraer ERJ-145s to connect a bunch of domestic destinations using Windhoek Eros airport as a hub.
Yesterday came the final chapter of a story initiated as far ago as 1946. The airline founded as South West Air Transport operated through four decades small aircraft mainly as a South African Airways (SA) feeder until it was designated as the Country’s flag carrier in 1987. A status which allowed the acquisition of larger aircraft like the 19-seater Beech 1900s in 1988. Jet age arrived in 1989 through the leasing of a Boeing 737-200 from South African Airways.
Following the independence of the Country, the company was re-christened adopting the current name of Air Namibia in October 1991. The early 1990s also saw the launch of long-haul services to Europe: the Windhoek–Frankfurt route started being flown in 1991 twice a week using a Boeing 747SP, and London (LHR) was included into the route network in 1992, initially with a non-stop flight and from 1993 via Frankfurt.
The ‘baby Jumbo’ was followed by a rather interesting array of airliners on the European services: In 1998 a brand-new Boeing 747-400 Combi (in a three-class configuration featuring First, Business and Economy) was acquired with the financial aid of the US Export Import Bank. In 2004 the ‘whale’ was retired and its place taken by a couple of McDonnell Douglas MD-11s, flanked by two Airbus A340-300s which remained active until 2014, when two A330-200s took their place to ply the popular Frankfurt route, operated on a daily basis.
On the short and medium-haul, a total of 11 Boeing 737-200s and 737-500s were used from 1991 to 2013, when Airbus A319s took over the task. Embraer ERJ-145s operated domestic services, mainly from the smaller Eros airport in Windhoek.
Ultimately, the fleet totalled 9 aircraft: 2 Airbus A330-200s in a two-class configuration with 30 lie-flat seats in Business and 214 in Economy, 3 Airbus A319-100s with 16 seats in Business and 96 in Economy and 4 Embraer ERJ-145s with 37 Economy seats. The low-density seating of the A330s (244 total seats) and A319s (112 seats) recalls ominously the one featured by many long-haul types in the colours of South African Airways, another doomed-fate carrier.
A paradise for wildlife and natural beauties which (before the Covid pandemic) attracted hundreds of thousands of tourists every year, Namibia remains connected to the rest of the world by Airlink (Johannesburg and Cape Town), Comair (Johannesburg), Condor (flights to Frankfurt are scheduled to resume on May 3), Ethiopian Airlines (Addis Ababa), KLM (Amsterdam), Qatar Airways (flights to Doha will resume on march 28) and Taag Angola (Luanda). (Header photo Wikimedia Commons / Kambui)