Get ready for a better Air Tanzania, says minister

The government is knocking Air Tanzania Company Limited (ATCL) into shape before it buys or leases planes for domestic and international routes, according to Transport Minister Harrison Mwakyembe.

Speaking on Monday during the Dakika 45 programme on a local television station, Dr Mwakyembe said the government has opted for a special debt review before approving the buying or leasing of planes. The debt has dropped to half the original Sh140 billion. “We have reached his amount following the ongoing review,” Dr Mwakyembe added, “and the process continues.”

He attributed ATCL’s poor performance to shoddy management, including the fact that most contracts entered on behalf of the airline did little to boost the prosperity of the firm.

“I don’t see strong reasons for the government to purchase or lease planes at the moment,” Dr Mwakyembe said. “Our focus now is to overhaul the company. If we need planes, it is a only a matter of a few minutes to have a Boeing and Bombardier here.”

According to the minister, who was on a tour of Kilimanjaro Region, the government cannot set a time frame for sorting out the state-owned airline because of legal procedures. Some companies have already filed cases against ATCL, which makes it difficult for the government to pinpoint when the debt review and re-organisation of the firm will be completed, allowing negotiations to continue.

“The issue here is to have the actual debt as the government doesn’t want to repeat the same mistakes,” Dr Mwakyemebe added. “We want a strong base for ATCL to start running and we have created room for the private sector to operate smoothly in the aviation industry.”

The flag carrier was established in March 1977 following the break-up of East African Airways, which was owned jointly by Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. The company was privatised in 1998 on the assumption that it would link up with Alliance Air but the plan was cancelled and the airline remained state-owned. 

A contract with South African Airways did not boost the company either.

Reacting to complaints that Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA) has been a route for smuggling narcotics, Dr Mwakyembe said his ministry, via the airport authority, has strengthened security at all airports in the country and the number of drugs cases has dropped. 

He added: “As we talk now, the number of cases involving smuggling of drugs has gone down and we have managed to control the situation.”

About Sh6 billion worth of heroin and cocaine has been seized at Tanzania’s major airports in the past two-and-half years, according to police reports. That haul came from only 56 suspects at JNIA and Kilimanjaro International Airport. Eighteen of the traffickers were Nigerian and four Ghanaian.

“We have managed to control our major airports by installing gadgets that can detect drugs,” said the minister. “We will also improve the standards in Terminal Three, which is under construction, where we will have four machines for detecting drugs.”

The government also intends to renovate Mwalimu Julius Nyerere International Airport, which faces many challenges during the rains. The project will kick off in August after the inauguration of Terminal Three, which is expected to handle up to 3.5 million passengers annually and will include parking lots, access roads, platforms and a taxiway.

The new terminal is designed for the anticipated growth of international air traffic, leaving Terminal Two to cater for domestic flights. The design of the roof is inspired by the traditional sailing boats to be found at the Coast.
Source: The Citizen, reported by Mkinga Mkinga from Dar es salaam, Tanzania
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