KATIMA MULILO – Air passengers in Katima Mulilo are outraged over Air Namibia’s decision to move the route’s flights from Eros airport to Hosea Kutako International Airport (HKIA).
The decision was announced early this month and comes into effect on Sunday, 29 March.
Air Namibia has cited traffic growth as well as minimising positioning costs, as the main reasons for the decision that has proved unpopular. The current untenable arrangement, according to the national air carrier, entails flying the aircraft from its original hub of Hosea Kutako International Airport to Eros Airport while empty in order to carry local passengers to their various destinations.
However, many residents particularly regular business travellers have lamented the decision stating that it would be more costly and likely to inconvenience them, as HKIA is over 40 kilometres outside Windhoek.
As if that was not enough, they say the local Mpacha Airport too sits over 20 kilometres on the western periphery of Katima Mulilo.
Francis Sikumba, former regional NCCI branch chairperson and local businessman, accused Air Namibia of failing to respect its clients, stating that flight charges from Katima Mulilo to Windhoek were already exorbitant. “Residents of Zambezi and Kavango are disadvantaged by this decision. We already spend close to N$5 000 for a return ticket to Windhoek, even [more] expensive than going to Cape Town and in addition, our local airport is located over 20 kilometres from town,” complained Sikumba.
He accused the airline of advancing the interests of tourists at the expense of locals, saying the decision might have been taken to cater for tourists’ connecting flights at HKIA.
“The reason they gave is not clear. It seems they want to cater for tourists they say are always delayed for their connecting flights. If they want to accommodate tourists, why can’t they have a stopover at Eros and then proceed to Hosea Kutako?” enquired Sikumba.
According to Sikumba, the fact that Air Namibia enjoys a monopoly in the industry should not give it the leeway to exploit its clients.
“We are going to mobilise all the people and we call upon our leaders in the two regions to reject this decision. I use the services of Air Namibia twice or thrice a month. Air Namibia gets bailed out all the time by us the taxpayers. Why should they treat us like this? When they cancelled some of their flights, they also did not consult us?” fumed Sikumba.
Sharon Limbo, who runs a portfolio of business ventures in catering, cleaning and construction services, echoed similar sentiments noting that from HKIA travellers without transport are compelled to pay exorbitant transport charges.
“This decision was not even properly communicated to us. Most of the people would have to pay over N$360 from the airport to Windhoek per person for the taxi, which is very expensive for us. Air Namibia needs to relook at this decision,” said Limbo.
Dr Leonard Sitengu, who owns a private medical practice in Katima Mulilo, said as a regular traveller on the airline he is likely to be negatively impacted by this decision.
“This is a serious inconvenience to us. I am a constant traveller on this airline because my family is in Windhoek. Air Namibia must give us concrete reasons why it was done that way. As a medical doctor, time is of the essence and we don’t have reliable transport from Hosea Kutako and its very expensive,” complained Sitengu.
Reached for comment, Air Namibia spokesperson Paul Nakawa explained that the decision to move flights was purely a business decision aimed at minimising aircraft positioning costs and increasing the availability of scheduled commercial flights.
“The rationale behind this decision is purely business economics. We operate this route with an ERJ 135 that seats 37 passengers. At the moment we reposition such an aircraft flying it empty from Hosea Kutako to Eros. This is a costly exercise. The decision we took will minimise aircraft positioning costs and will increase availability on scheduled commercial flights,” he explained.
Nakawa further noted that the national airliner made several announcements on the issue at the beginning of the year and was working towards fulfilling a Cabinet approved business plan.
“We have made announcements at the beginning of the whole year to all Air Namibia stakeholders. We are in business, hence we can think in ways that will keep us afloat to be in tune with the expected goals of Cabinet approved business plan,” said Nakawa.
He refuted claims that Katima Mulilo and Rundu were the only towns affected by the decision, adding in future all flights may be moved to HKIA in line with the airline’s business strategy. “Our Lüderitz and Oranjemund flights operate from Hosea Kutako. Our business strategy stipulates that Hosea Kutako should be our hub. In the near future we might be moving all our flights operations to Hosea Kutako in order to fulfil our business objective,” he said.
He said the stopovers were not a viable option and seemed to downplay concerns that Air Namibia fares for Katima Mulilo were exorbitant only stating that such explanations have been exclusively provided to clients before.
“We have provided substantial feedback on the issues of our ticket fares and we have done so exclusively to the business community through their NCCI,” stated Nakawa