Air Namibia has suspended its process of appointing a new Managing Director. This was done as the practicality of the appointment will be heavily dependent on a cabinet pronouncement on the future of the airline.
This comes as the airline's board had chosen Netherlands national, Lars de Brabander for the position. Its other shortlisted candidate, former Air Namibia General Manager for Ground Operations, Kate du Toit, withdrew from the race.
The 57-year-old De Brabander is an aviation veteran with extensive experience in the international aviation sector, having worked at Air France - KLM, Northwest Airlines, and Martinair. He also served as chairman of the board of InselAir International B.V.
The decision by the hard-pressed Air Namibia board, according to insiders, had to be deferred to avoid entering into a costly employment contract without knowing the future of the airline which seems to be on the brink of collapse.
Air Namibia has been operating without a substantive head, following the resignation of Acting Managing Director, Mandi Samson in March. Currently, Xavier Kasule is serving in the acting MD role. The hunt has been on for a substantive Managing Director to lead its turnaround.
Sources have informed this newspaper that the company’s board which was appointed in February, had begged Transport minister, John Mutorwa to assist in securing additional government funding. The company is saddled with a historic debt of N$1.6 billion. This was to be settled in tranches of N$800 million by the end of August 2019 and the balance of N$800 million by the end of September.
The proposed payment arrangement is said to be contrary to major debtor Challenge Air’s request that Air Namibia makes a single payment to settle a long-running lawsuit that ended unfavourably for the national airline.
Air Namibia entered into an aircraft lease agreement with Challenge Air in 1998. Then, it subsequently canceled the deal because the aircraft was believed to be defective. Various court rulings have rejected this claim.
The company’s board is said to be keen to resolve the matter and has reached out to the Challenge Air, which is currently in liquidation in South Africa.
The Air Namibia board is also said to have requested lawyer Sisa Namandje to provide documentary evidence of his power of attorney to act on behalf of Challenge Air. This request has yet to be fulfilled.
The recent funding request, according to sources, comes as the airline board had also written to the line minister seeking government guarantees. These would be used to stabilize the company. Air Namibia has embarked on route cuts as part of cost containment measures.
In June, Air Namibia suspended all flights to Luanda. Flights from Windhoek to Johannesburg were scaled down to one per day from the usual three. The Windhoek to Cape Town flights were reduced to two flights per day, operated by an Embraer ERJ and one flight using an Airbus A319 going via Walvis Bay.
Industry insiders have raised concerns about how the sensitive negotiations will now proceed after board chairperson Dee Sauls-Deckenbrock and her deputy Nangula Kauluma have resigned.
Sauls-Deckenbrock, a practicing lawyer with her law firm and Kauluma an executive at First National Bank (FNB) Namibia, cited personal reasons and increased responsibilities with their full-time jobs.
The remaining board now consists of Escher Luanda, Heritaha Nankole Muyoba, Willy Mertens and Alois Nyandoro.