When former Tanzania Transport Minister Omari Nundu, at a workshop held by the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority in celebration of the International Civil Aviation Day, suggested that proposals made several years ago to refinance and revive moribund national airline Air Tanzania, it promptly raised a storm of calls, mails and messages from regular aviation sources in the country to this correspondent.
While other airlines did not go on direct record have sources from the aviation sector in Tanzania once again pointed out that any further financial support for the airline – past governments have repeatedly bailed ATCL out without any visible success however – would tilt the playing field and be contrary to free market rules under which failed companies simply have to wind up and go out of business.
However, stakeholders from the conservation fraternity, as they did in 2012 when the proposals were made, took instant exception to use funds from TANAPA, the Tanzania National Park Authority and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority, besides the National Social Security Fund to raise capital for the all but failed airline.
‘Let anyone dare to touch the funds of TANAPA or NCAA’ ranted an Arusha based conservation source before adding ‘Their money is supposed to be for conservation purposes, not to fund a dead parastatal. It is hard enough for TANAPA and NCAA to make ends meet. Both depend on development partners and donors and NGO’s to help finance the deficits so how can anyone even suggest they contribute to hold shares in ATCL? What about the other airlines which actually bring people into this country and fly them all over the place. How would they react. How could TANAPA continue to work with them if such complete and utter bias would be forced on them. This minister is a past minister for a reason, let him return to retirement but not meddle in the critical conservation work by wanting to divert money to his buddies in ATCL’. Clearly infuriated it however reflected similar sentiments received from others. It remains to be seen, President John Magufuli has yet to announce his choice of cabinet, how the new government will address the bottomless financial pit called ATCL though the president has already served notice that he will not tolerate corruption and poor performance and had specifically named some parastatals and government authorities soon after taking office which are due to receive his ‘special attention’.
Tanzania is presently well served, better than ever before when Air Tanzania still held a monopoly, by companies like Fastjet and Precision Air but also the safari airlines like Auric and Coastal which connect literally every major and even minor airports by scheduled services and charters. Said one company representative on condition of anonymity: ‘If the new government wants to set a signal for the aviation industry it will let ATC shut down. There are enough airlines in Tanzania, and also flying into Tanzania, that the closure will not be felt by anyone in the market place. The government should have priorities in education and health, infrastructure and development and Air Tanzania does not match those needs in any way, shape or format’.
All eyes will therefore be on State House in Dar es Salaam waiting for the upcoming cabinet announcement and the subsequent formulation of policies for the various sectors, including aviation – as well as tourism and conservation for that matter.