(eTN) – Information was finally confirmed that the government of Tanzania has indeed used some of their sparse cash to pay for major aircraft maintenance for Air Tanzania’s (ATCL) sole aircraft, a Bombardier Q300. The plane was withdrawn from service early this year and flown to South Africa for a C-check, effectively shutting down the operations of the airline. Short of cash, however, ATCL was unable to pay for the repairs carried out, and the aircraft was subsequently kept by the maintenance facility in lieu of payment. It is understood that only threats that the aircraft would be auctioned off to recover the very substantial capital outlay incurred by the maintenance firm prompted Dar es Salaam to finally find the money to pay up.
Airworthiness inspectors from the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority will be proceeding to Johannesburg to establish, if they can, following the required overhaul according to airworthiness directives from the manufacturers, to re-issue a certificate of airworthiness before the plane can return to Dar es Salaam and eventually resume service.
A source close to ATCL also spoke about the possible lease acquisition of two CRJ200 aircraft, a 50-seater jet in an all-economy configuration, now operating in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania and said to offer, even as an older model, excellent operating economics vis-a-vis the cost of acquisition.
Jetlink in Kenya was the first airline in East Africa to introduce the Bombardier CRJ into the East African skies, followed by RwandAir, which first leased two aircraft from Jetlink before purchasing their current two “birds” from Lufthansa. Air Uganda eventually also acquired two of these sleek jets to avoid a financial crash caused by their inexplicable use of aged MD 87, before Fly540 also added several of these jets to their fleet, now operating from Kenya into the entire region, including to Tanzania and within Tanzania between Dar and Kilimanjaro.
Said a regular aviation source from Arusha, Kilimanjaro, to this correspondent: “I think someone at last has absorbed lessons about financial prudence and about keeping operations within financially affordable levels. Thank God they are now abandoning their notion that they have to fly Boeing 737 aircraft, which are now simply too big for them. Precision and Fly540 have now taken over the local and regional market, and to claw their way back, ATCL will need to be reliable, affordable, and efficient. They have to shed unproductive workers, cut down on operating cost for their aircraft and the use of the cost-efficient Q300 and maybe later of CRJs is a step in the right direction.
“Let them show the traveling public that they still can manage somehow and compete with KQ, Precision, Fly 540, or Air Uganda, or RwandAir, and then we will see. Personally, I feel that reviving ATCL is not in the best interest of the country. We go [with] Precision now, and they are doing very well. Why [the] government should spend much money on ATCL when we lack medicines in hospitals; TTB is short of funds to promote the country abroad and anti-poaching units lack fuel to drive their donated cars around the parks – those should be priorities, not reviving a symbol of national shame, which ATCL has become over all the scandals.”
None of the executives asked to comment from airlines in the region were willing to speculate on the fate of ATCL, all claiming that they had not heard about the latest developments and that they would need time to find out what exactly was going on with ATCL.