Rare rebuke from Minister for ailing Air Tanzania


(Posted 02nd February 2015)

The recently appointed new Minister of Transport in the Tanzanian government, Hon. Samwel Sitta, wasted no time to take aim at the ailing national airline Air Tanzania over accumulated debts amounting to tens of billions of Tanzania Shillings.

The Minister was quoted to have used phrases like negligence and sabotage in his broadside against the management of the company, with those responsible for the massive losses of course long gone, either resigned or fired from their jobs. Past managers in some hare brained schemes, which first year aviation students would very likely reject out of hand, had ended the company paying for aircraft which hardly ever flew and engaged in deals which cost the company dearly, counting on continued bailouts from government.

Minister Sitta was also quoted to have said, among other things, that potential investors shied away from the company in the past due to the massive losses ATCL had accumulated over time.

It is good the Minister raised these issues immediately after taking office. Air Tanzania has swallowed tax money like there is no tomorrow. The problem is that the periodic bailouts with tax money tilt the market because they can operate almost like profits do not matter. Even the present management has promised a lot and little has happened. The Minister should also acknowledge that the unions have played a bad part in past attempts to privatize or find a core investor. Debts and hardline unions are a recipe for airlines to fail in this day and age. Instead of investing more money in this bottomless pit, let them wind up ATCL and rather buy shares in Precision Air which is on the Dar stock exchange. That would make sense. They are financially ailing also but have a better chance to succeed’ said a regular aviation source from Dar es Salaam when passing the Minister’s comments.

The airline’s indebtness, long hidden from the public eye, was exposed by the opposition in Parliament at which stage various shady deals, like a lease contract for an Airbus A320, came to light too. ATCL is presently facing the potential loss of their headquarters due to ignoring a court order to pay creditors by the end of 2014, when they failed to meet the deadline prompting several companies to file for auction of the building.

Flight operations are also patchy at best and there was talk of a slow go a few weeks ago when pilots failed to report back on duty after the holidays.

The way ATCL is run is reason enough to show why a government has no business to be in business. Bureaucrats just can’t hack it to run a company as complex as an airline in today’s competitive environment. To be frank, I consider many of ATCL’s staff as quite competent up to midlevel but above, those are the ones who did the shady deals and ended the company in a never ending financial crisis’ added another source while claiming to express a broad opinion shared by Tanzania’s aviation fraternity.

Tanzania’s leading airline by passenger numbers is now Fastjet, serving three domestic and four continental destinations out of Dar es Salaam, while Precision Air operates more domestic routes with their better suited ATR fleet which can land on shorter airfields. Air Tanzania now comes a distant third, almost relegated to irrelevance in comparison to the other two airlines vis a vis destinations and passengers carried. None of the three however is presently in profit territory, a cause for some concern among aviation pundits, even if the current low aviation fuel prices will bring some relief to the bottom line at the end of the respective financial years.

Watch this space for breaking and regular aviation news from across the entire Eastern African region.

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