by Ndanki Kahiurika and Charmaine Ngatjiheue

FLYWESTAIR, the schedule operations of Westair Aviation, has announced that not only will it stop its flights during the coronavirus lockdown, but will also retrench 60 staff members.

FlyWestair will suspend its flights during the coronavirus lockdown and also retrench 60 staff members.
Photo: Poerie Venter for Westair Namibia

The company announced in a media statement yesterday that the decision comes as a means of mitigating losses that have come in light of the fight against Covid-19. The announcement comes a day after the government on Tuesday announced a lockdown from 27 March to 16 April.

FlyWestair will suspend all flights between Eros, Ondangwa and Eros airports, effective from 26 March.

“The Eros, Oranjemund and Cape Town flights have already been suspended and will remain so until global restrictions on travel are lifted,” the company announced.

Pointing out the fact that they are not relying on government subsidies, the airline said this has made it hard for them as they rely on their own funding to run the airline.Westair chief executive officer Henry van Schalkwyk confirmed the retrenchments to Nampa yesterday.

The announcement comes barely nine months after the company was given the green light to become a scheduled passenger airline in Namibia.

Sources at the airline who preferred anonymity disclosed their anxiety to Nampa.

“Westair is retrenching 60 employees. That means that one in every four Westair employees is being sent home. There is actually no work due to the measures currently put in place to combat Covid-19,” one source told Nampa.

According to the source, Westair has retrenched or ended contracts of the approximately 60 employees in an effort to survive the negative impacts of Covid-19.

One of the retrenched employees who preferred not to be named, said with an economy that was ailing even before their retrenchment, they can only imagine how they will make ends meet.

“Being one of the people that have been retrenched, the effects of uncertainty are already settling in and we are left to wonder how we are going to cope through these difficult times and beyond,” the employee said.

Nampa further established that the airline has either cancelled all charter flights between March and June or the same has been postponed to 2021.

This is all due to the heavy travel restrictions imposed by most countries in their bid to control and contain the spread of Covid-19.

“Due to this crisis, we have no option but to retrench without delay in order to survive the immediate economic and social impact,” said the company in a statement.

The company said the process to let go staff has already started, but vital support services like maintenance, pilots and other staff will be spared.

“The Covid-19 epidemic has resulted in travel bans locally and across the globe, with a negative impact on all aspects of the global economy, and particularly devastating to travel and tourism.

“As an aviation company that is focused on tourism, corporate charters and scheduled flights, the epidemic with subsequent travel restrictions and the cancellation of all travel and tourism bookings up to June 2020 and beyond, has hit us hard,” the statement reads.

Meanwhile, national airline Air Namibia announced yesterday in a press statement that it has placed a temporary ban on all its flights, effective 27 March to 20 April.

This ban includes domestic and regional flights, and comes after the government banned travel to all countries in the world for a period of 30 days, and put Khomas and Erongo regions under lockdown.

These measures are to combat the further spread of Covid-19, as Namibia’s confirmed cases jumped from two last week, to seven this week. Although all the cases were travel-related, the ministry reported that three of them involved Namibians.

In a statement yesterday, the airline’s spokesperson, Paul Nakawa, said long haul flights (international) remain suspended from 14 March 2020 and further updates will be communicated.

“The latest development is in alignment with the Republic of Namibia’s travel restrictions aimed at curbing the further spread of Covid-19 as directed by president Hage Geingob,” he said.

The spokesperson noted that as part of the essential services, Air Namibia remains available to offer air transport through charter flights for humanitarian purposes, as well as airlift pharmaceutical supplies and consumables, among others.

“Air Namibia has introduced flexible rebooking options for travellers who need to change their travel dates. All tickets purchased for travel up to 30 April 2020 will be offered one free change to a new travel date until 31 December 2020. Customers may change their bookings online or through email,” he noted.

Nakawa reiterated that Air Namibia joins the world in fighting Covid-19, thus the safety of its passengers, staff and the nation at large remains a priority.

Health minister Kalumbi Shangula on Tuesday said, no travellers are allowed into Namibia for the 30-day period.

“Special circumstances for admission of certain persons into Namibia will be considered and approved by the relevant institutions, depending on the nature of the travel to be undertaken, and the criticality of such mission to the national interest and safety and security of the Republic of Namibia,” the minister said.

Meanwhile, returning Namibians and permanent residents arriving would be required to conduct mandatory supervised quarantine for 14 days at own cost, Shangula said.

– Additional reporting by Nampa

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