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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Sabotaged? No ATCL management Staff are their own worst enemies

9th February 2013
Editorial Cartoon

Last week, Air Tanzania Company’s Acting Commercial Director, Mwanamvua Ngocho, claimed that one of our weekend editions, The Guardian on Sunday, which, is our sister newspaper, has been sabotaging the airline.

She claimed that The Guardian on Sunday has been publishing stories aimed at sabotaging the cash-strapped national airline.

 “A score of ATCL staff and I share the sentiment … the airline is not at your heart as you are one of the people wishing this company to collapse,” she told our journalist, Florian Kaijage, who had called her to get the side of the company’s story following the suspension of the operations of Boeing 737-200.

We would like to assure the ATCL management that we are just doing our core business, which is to seek and tell the truth to our readers. In so doing, we research our stories and give both sides a platform to share their views.

This, according to our knowledge, is not sabotage unless the ATCL management is willing to prove us wrong. We are not the authors and finishers of ATCL woes and therefore cannot be held responsible for its mess.

In facts, we have given ATCL a free business consultancy as well as challenging the airline with evidence about some of its business plans. If this qualifies to be an act of sabotage, then we are ready to be held accountable.

For instance, after we broke the news that ATCL had leased a Boeing 737-200 from South Africa, the next week we thoroughly analysed the leasing contract to establish whether it would benefit the national airline in terms of business or not.

  In our report, which was published on October 28, 2012, we showed that the leased Boeing 737-200 would cost Sh1billion in three months, which was the duration of the lease agreement.

We analysed the leasing cost plus operational costs in order to see whether the deal was profitable or not. In so doing we consulted the best aviation experts including some who work for the national airline.

 We concluded that given the surging fuel prices, the 737-200 model wasn’t the best option for ATCL, because of its high operational cost mainly fuel cost.

  According to our analysis, some aviation experts revealed stark reality to the contrary; we established that the Boeing 737-200 consumes at least three tons of fuel for a single trip to Mwanza, a moderately short hop of approximately 75 minutes.

To put things in perspective, for a return trip between the two cities (Dar-Mwanza), the leased Boeing 737-200 would be consuming six tons of fuel, not to count other operating costs.

The 737-200 was succeeded in 1984 by the 737-300, a much quieter, larger and more economical aircraft boasting a host of new features and improvements – and whose fuel bill was a comforting 20 percent less than its predecessor.

At the current fuel price of Sh1.6 million per tone (Sh1600 for a single litre of Jet fuel-A1), what these figures mean to ATCL is that the cash-strapped national airline would roughly spend Sh860.76 million within 90 days just by operating one domestic route between Dar and Mwanza.

In monetary values, ATCL would spend Sh4.8 million in fuel just to operate a single flight to Mwanza. If we factor in the leasing fee plus fuel cost without adding all other operational costs, the figures show that within three months, the national airline would dole out nearly Sh2 billion.

Fuel is the most crucial component in the airline business, and aviation experts estimate that it could consume up to 40 percent of its entire revenues – which is why most airlines have been going for fuel-efficient aircraft to curb the surging fuel costs.

In East and Southern Africa, for instance, most airlines have abandoned or replaced their 737-200 with 300, 400, 500 and 800 series to reduce fuel costs – and make sense in business.

The 737-200 can carry at least 106 passengers and crew. Introduced in February 1965, the 737 was originally envisioned as a 60- to 85-seater, before it was improved to accommodate 100 passengers and six crew.

Whereas the leasing fee of $1350 per block hour – with a tied guarantee of 150 block hours a month -- would cost a whopping $202,500 (Sh324 million) a month and $607,500 (Sh972, million) in three months, per diems for nine crew members would cost another 64,800 (103.68 million).

What we did was good journalism, which goes beyond parrot reporting because at the end, we are journalists -- not tape recorders.

During the same period, we also wrote an editorial in which we stated clearly that the government wasn’t fully committed to reviving the cash-strapped airline. We, among other things, narrated the importance of having a credible and stable national airline, reminding the government that when our founding president died in London, his body was carried by our national airline in 1999.

In 2011, we wrote another feature explaining how the government could raise money by allowing ATCL to borrow from pension funds in order to acquire modern fleets. We stated that since ATCL was in financial trouble, no any local bank would loan it money to acquire modern fleets and therefore the government should act as a guarantor so that the national airline borrows from our pension funds.

We did all this because as a responsible media, our duty goes beyond accusing or criticizing. Sometimes it’s also our duty to offer solution to various problems that face this country.

If this is what the ATCL Acting Commercial Director and her colleagues call sabotage, then we are so sorry for her. The truth is that ATCL management is its own worse enemy.



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