The Skies are Friendly Enough … It’s the Runways That Will Kill You

Photo: The Citizen

The Air Tanzania airplane flew over my house the other day and it reminded me that I haven’t posted an update on them in a while.

So I’ve been meaning to write something about them. Then I got a copy of Monday’s paper. Long-story-short from the last time I’ve posted … they’ve had their wings clipped again. On Monday the plane skidded off a muddy runway and suffered significant damage. (Fortunately all passengers and crew escaped with minor injuries.)

Air Tanzania (ATCL) started flying again last November after they finally paid up and got their one airplane back from the South African maintenance company. (The South Africans had to threaten to auction the plane off before ATCL finally paid up.) They resumed service with a daily flight between Dar, Kigoma, and Tabora. Kigoma and Tabora have around 200,000 residents or so and while I am sure they are quite nice places, they are not exactly the major travel destinations in Tanzania. But while ATCL was grounded, private aviation businesses took firm hold of all the major markets. One of these companies, Precision Air, has even completed an initial public offering of stock on the Tanzanian stock exchange.

(And incidentally, “Precision” is the best example of aspirational naming I’ve seen in a long while. Their planes never arrive on time. And yet every time you say their name you have this vague sense that they’re reliable. Brilliant!)

Meanwhile, Air Tanzania focused on taking care of key operational objectives. Like designing new uniforms. (Note the colorful patterned accents incorporating the airline’s running giraffe mascot– nice!) 

Photo by the Daily News

Every couple of months or so, the ATCL CEO would announce to the media how the company was improving this aspect of the service or would soon conquer that market. But from what I hear, nothing really changed. For example, one friend who recently tried to book a flight (prior to the crash) had to call the Air Tanzania office five times before someone finally called them back.

A few anonymous voices question why the country spends $12 million on an airline that provides inferior service and costs more money than the private options. This person said it far better than I could so I’ll just quote:

It is high time we, the stakeholders running the industry, have a chance to be heard. This is an opportunity to also find out why our government is wasting taxpayer money for Air Tanzania, when we have a functioning aviation company, which has stepped up when ATCL [Air Tanzania Company Ltd.] almost folded and let us down. Precision now flies to more places and more often than ATCL ever did. Why disturb them with such interventions? Let the market take care of it. Let our government give total support to Precision for new routes. Let them invest in Precision where our tax money at least can earn dividends while at ATCL is a bottomless pit, a snake pit, also to be sure with all the union troubles and political fiefdoms and protectionism they created.

But the newspapers and government still seem to hang on to the idea that you can’t be a real country unless you have a national airline. The Citizen editorial “Airport Accidents are Preventable blamed the sate of the runways at the Kigoma airport (a reasonable point). The Daily News ran the news on it’s second page, choosing to make it’s top story one about the government deciding to try to find a strategic investor for General Tyre East Africa, a defunct tire manufacturing firm that suspended production in 2007. (And the news as such in this story apparently came from a reporter’s phone call with a minister “over the weekend.”) The Guardian ran the story on the front page but editorialized about Martin Luther King instead.

So ATCL soldiers on. The government has been subsidizing ATCL out of the transportation budget. Before the Monday debacle, ATCL was trying to raise money for a new plane. Maybe they should use the money buy some Precision Airlines shares instead. After all, that’s who ATCL chartered to carry the stranded passengers home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *