(eTN) – Information was unearthed last week about the cost of the lease of an aged B737-200 aircraft that Air Tanzania seems to have wet-leased from a South African firm, Star Air Cargo. The 32-year-old aircraft, which first went into service in 1980 at British Airtours in the UK before migrating through half a dozen other owners or operators in Europe and South America, will cost the Tanzanian tax payer at least US$200,000 a month for an initial 3-month lease, as ATCL – against better advice once again it appears – committed to fly 150 hours a month at US$1,350 for each hour. Additionally, ATCL must meet the cost of upkeep for the crew, estimated to be in the region of a further US$80–100 per day, per individual, which while not out of range known from similar arrangements, still amounts to a significant cost outlay at a time when the airline only flies between Dar es Salaam – Kilimanjaro – Mwanza, funded by the Tanzanian taxpayer.
Aviation pundits were swift to jump on the deal, claiming that such aged aircraft should cost less than the agreed rate, some suggesting that the hourly rate was “loaded” to facilitate vested interests, while others took issue with the operating cost of such an aged aircraft. “The fuel burn of this aircraft type is much greater than it would be for a modern jet, and, therefore, the operating cost is significantly higher for each flight. Airlines today say that fuel cost now constitutes as much as 40 percent of their overall cost, but when one uses a very old aircraft, that cost shoots up. What happened to ATCL claiming they would use more modern jets?
“Passengers should not be deceived by the new shiny coat of paint, because what matters is underneath and not visible. They talked about getting CRJ aircraft, smaller jets which fly more economically and are large enough for the restart of business. But as we can see, it is same old, same old again. First the bungled lease with the Gulf company which might cost the country a lot of money just like the Airbus saga which parliament unearthed. And now they bring in a very old aircraft.
“They lack the vision it seems and employ stop gap measures only. You wait, soon you will hear they have gone begging again to the government to eat more of our tax shillings,” said a regular aviation source from Tanzania when discussing the leaked information. The same source also confirmed that ATCL was frantically working behind the scenes to resume flights to Nairobi ahead of the expected launch by FastJet and commented: “If there is any delay for FastJet in starting flights to Nairobi and it has to do with approvals and permits, you can take a safe bet what the cause for that will be.”
Air Tanzania’s last B737-200 suffered a premature end when involved in a crash in Mwanza, thankfully without the loss of life, but damaging the gear, hull, and at least one engine to the point of not being viable to repair.