HCTAHBP: Here’s an email I would never get in the US

Sent by a colleague who was returning to Nairobi from Dar:

Hi Brent

How was your weekend? I got home safe and sound although the plane had mechanical problem where it refused to open the flap on the wings so we had to fly for more than an hour and then it opened and then we landed safe.

Whew. Glad that it finally opened up. I wonder what the pilot’s plan was if it didn’t open?

I know what you are thinking, and no, this wasn’t an Air Tanzania flight. They’re still not flying outside of the country yet.

These Guys Could Fill a Blog All By Themselves

Victrola Phonograph

Like the Victrola Phonograph or Herpes, Air Tanzania is the gift that keeps on giving. At least it keeps on giving to bloggers. For the citizens of Tanzany it’s more of a gift that keeps on taking.

Today’s top story in the Daily News: “The government will have to cough up over [US $60 million] to offset a debt incurred by Air Tanzania (ATCL) … resulting from the troubled national carrier’s move to hire an Airbus from a Lebanese company in 2007.”

So, what we have is:

I know what you’re thinking. What could possibly go wrong?

Well for starters, the plane broke 6 months after they bought it. Then ATCL sent it to France for maintenance. And then they refused to pay for it for a while. And it get’s a bit murky after that. Apparently it returned to service for a while, broke again, and someone else may have started using it. In fact, the plane was apparently grounded for 41 out of the 48 months that ATCL had it.

But Wallis is still billing ATCL for it. In fact, the price of the lease could cover the cost buying two A320s outright. And the contract stipulated that the lease payments would be the same whether or not the plane was in service. (For a very thorough chronology of this and other Air Tanzania scandals, check out this blog.)

So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll wrap up this post. You see, I have to get the Manhattan bridge ready to show. I think I have found a very interested buyer.

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.

Air Tanzania: “The Wings of Kilimanjaro”

When Donkey's Fly

I didn’t anticipate writing so many posts on Air Tanzania, but they just won’t let me leave them alone. (See: mascot, importance to national pride),

In a recent The Daily News article, “ATCL’s comeback amid new strategies to regain market”, I learned several interesting new facts about Tanzany’s flagship carrier.  To wit:

  1. They only have one airplane.
  2. The airplane has been stuck in South Africa since March 18, 2011.
  3. Apparently, no one thought to line up a replacement airplane during the maintenance window.
  4. Although there haven’t been any flights since March and the aviation market here is doing just fine, they hope to resume flights soon. (“Next month!”)
  5. There was some unpleasantness when the maintenance bill came due. (“It is understood that only threats that the aircraft would be auctioned off to recover the very substantial capital outlay incurred by the maintenance firm prompted Dar es Salaam to finally find the money to pay up.”)
  6. The CEO believes that this situation may necessitate some staff downsizing.

If there is a better way to blow $6 million per year, I can’t think of it … Unless  they hired the artist Christo to actually put an enormous pair of canvas wings on the sides of Mount Kilimanjaro as a publicity stunt.  That would be pretty cool.

What Makes a Nation Great?

Remember that great quote about what it takes to be a real country?  I remember it as a Dave Barry but several Internet sites attribute it to Frank Zappa:

You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.

Well, that belief is alive and well in Tanzany.  Exhibit 1: Friday’s editorial in The Citizen, entitled “Improve the Transport System or We’re Doomed”.  

Those who care for this nation are concerned that we don’t have an airline to talk about, for Air Tanzania Company Limited (ACTL), sad to say is virtually dead!  Tanzania must revive its airline.  An airline is not only about transport; it is also about national pride.  Like other proudly independent countries, ours too must have a national flag carrier!

So the government is planning to blow another $141 $14.1 million on Air Tanzania.  Maybe they should think about changing the mascot while they’re at it.