Perennial problems in finance and administration facing Air Tanzania Company Ltd (ATCL) have worsened as the national carrier halted all its flight schedules this week.
The beleaguered national airline flew once last Monday to Hahya in the Comoros Islands and that was the last flight it could offer after it halted domestic trips the previous week.
From May 18 ATCL has been running it business relying on a single aircraft, Boeing 737-500 leased from a Dubai based company, Aerovista.
Prior to that the national airline was on the ground since early April when the only operational plane, Bombardier Dash 8 was damaged in an accident at Kigoma airport.
The Guardian on Sunday has learnt this week that the newly appointed board of directors led by Salum Msoma was compelled to hold lengthy meetings in bid to find a workable solution on the matter.
Sources privy to the ATCL management and the board told this paper that the board decided to halt operations so as to have ample time to hold discussion with Aerovista on the leasing agreement dispute.
“The board met three times this week and would be meeting again on Monday, as there are several matters to be sorted out. The matter at hand is to set a short-term plan from July-December,” the sources indicated.
The board is acting in state of urgency so as to submit the said short term plan to the Ministry of Transport to chart the way forward.
“The ministry is of the view that the leasing agreement is not in favour of the government but was profiting the aircraft owners, Aerovista,” they said.
ATCL’s acting Chief Executive Officer Captain Lusajo Lazaro told this paper that the airline had suspended some of its services to pave the way for negotiations on the agreement, but two days after that statement the airline was no longer airborne.
Captain Lazaro who took over in June after termination of services of his predecessor, Engineer Paul Chizi had declared that the national flag carrier would continue to operate on some crucial routes including the Comoros.
Last week when winding up House debate on his ministry’s estimates, Transport Minister Dr. Harrison Mwakyembe said there was a concrete plan to revamp ATCL, specifying that procurement of two brand new aircraft was on the cards. He could not however provide specific timing of the purchase.
Dr Mwakyembe said the second 50-seat Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft which is undergoing major technical maintenance refereed to as ‘Check C’ at the Dar es Salaam Hangar would be ready for operations at the end of August.
However, well placed sources at the Ministry of Transport told this paper that it would be unlikely to have the plane ready within time specified by the minister.
“If the parts were to arrive today from abroad where they are undergoing maintenance it would take not less than three weeks to finalise their fitting before operations commence. Since they are yet to arrive it is not foreseeable that the said timeline can be met,” they affirmed.
This paper has reliably established that important parts of the plane such as landing gears have been transported to Canada, while one of the two engines is in Italy and the wings are in the United Kingdom.
“The payments for the maintenance on the said parts are yet to be settled by the government and this is the main reason for the delay in release of the parts. There is bureaucracy at the ministry on this matter at the expense of ATCL,” the ministerial official intoned.
Last Sunday this paper reported that while the airline management attributed the suspension of some operations to the review of the leasing agreement, ATCL insiders insisted that ATCL owed Aerovista (owners of Boeing 737-500) close to $1 million (Sh1.6 billion).
“As per the leasing agreement ATCL has to pay $2100 per operating hour and the aircraft has been operating at a minimum of six hours a day and at a maximum of eight hours a day.
No down payment has been made so far, which has angered the owners and thus decided to ground the plane,” the sources affirmed. The aircraft had operated for 76 days since May 18 before troubles began.