Airnam Wants Rival Grounded (allAfrica.com)

An attempt by Air Namibia to keep a low-cost rival airline, Flyafrica, out of the Namibian air travel market is due to make a return to the High Court in Windhoek today.

With an urgent application by Air Namibia against Flyafrica’s Namibian partner, Nomad Aviation, the Transportation Commission of Namibia, and the chairperson of the commission having been withdrawn in the High Court on Tuesday, when the case was due to be heard, a renewed application from the national airline is back on the court roll today.

A technical problem with the application that was initially lodged at the court is understood to have been the reason for the withdrawal of the matter on Tuesday. With the case withdrawn and the legal hurdle that itnhad been facing out of the way, Flyafrica celebrated its first flight between Johannesburg and Windhoek’s Hosea Kutako International Airport on Wednesday.

However, Air Namibia still wants the court to prohibit Nomad Aviation, which holds the air services licences on which Flyafrica has started to operate budget flights between Windhoek and Johannesburg, from carrying passengers between Windhoek and OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.

The airline is further asking the court to declare that Nomad Aviation does not have valid air services licences that would allow it to fly passengers between Namibia and South Africa.

In an affidavit filed at the court, Air Namibia’s chief operating officer, René Gsponer, alleges that the air services licence that the Transportation Commission first granted to Nomad Aviation in 1996 and amended in 2002 authorises the company only to transport passengers by air on domestic routes in Namibia. Nomad Aviation’s application to be allowed to transport passengers on international routes, including between Hosea Kutako International Airport and Johannesburg and Cape Town, was specifically refused by the commission, according to Gsponer.

On that issue, Gsponer and the managing director of Nomad Aviation, Clifford Strydom, are poles apart.

Charging that Air Namibia’s only real motive with the case it has lodged at the court is to prevent competition to the airline, Strydom insists in an affidavit also filed at the court that Nomad Aviation’s air services licence permits the company to fly passengers and freight on all routes approved by the commission.

According to Gsponer, Flyafrica appears to be a shelf company registered in Mauritius, with a company registered in South Africa, Flyafrica Aviation Services, the real operating company in control of the budget airline. By allowing a Mauritian-controlled airline, which is in effect controlled from South Africa, to offer flights on the Windhoek-Johannesburg route, Namibia would effectively allow four South African airlines to fly that route, leaving Air Namibia as the only Namibian airline on the route, Gsponer states. That is an abdication to a foreign entity of Namibia’s sovereign right over its airspace, he charges.

In a counter-attack, Strydom is alleging that Air Namibia is approaching the court with dirty hands because the foreign operating permit that allows it to fly to and from South Africa stipulates that it may offer only five flights per week on its South African routes. In reality, Air Namibia is operating 438 flights a month – or about 102 flights per week – to South Africa and back, Strydom says, accusing Air Namibia of operating illegally.

He is also charging that Air Namibia’s ticket tariffs for the Windhoek-Johannesburg route were approved by the Transportation Commission in 2000, and that the airline is illegally selling tickets on that route above the approved tariff.

Strydom is further arguing that Air Namibia was aware of the plan to start operating low-cost flights on the Windhoek-Johannesburg route as far back as December last year, or at least in March and April this year when Flyafrica started to sell tickets for that route. However, Air Namibia delayed taking the legal action that it now wants the court to hear on an urgent basis, he says, accusing the airline of self-created urgency.