Following the demise of state-owned Air Namibia last week today, we thought we would take a look at the airline’s former fleet of Boeing 747s and see what has happened to the planes. Air Namibia had over six 747 aircraft in its lifetime, which were used mostly for long-haul flights to Frankfurt and London.
According to the aviation enthusiast website Planespotters.net, Air Namibia’s’ Boeing 747 fleet was comprised of the following versions:
- 1 x Boeing 747-300
- 1 x Boeing 747-400
- 4 x Boeing 747SP
The first Boeing 747 to arrive in Windhoek was an SP (Special Performance) version of the jumbo jet designed for long-distance flights. The aircraft registration V5-SPF with the name “Etosha” was leased from South African Airways in 1991 and returned in 1998.
Air Namibia leased 747s from SAA
Over the following years, Air Namibia continued leasing its 747 aircraft from South African Airways, often for just months at a time:
- V5-SPE Boeing 747SP from March 1993 to May 1993
- ZS-SPB Boeing 747SP from July 1996 to November 1996
- V5-SPF Boeing 747SP from October 1991 to April 1998
- ZS-SPC Boeing 747SP from May 1999 to Oct 1999
Air Namibia’s 747-400M registration V5-NMA was a cargo version of the plane delivered from Boeing in 1999 after Korea’s Asiana Airlines canceled its order for the dual purpose aircraft. This was the most interesting Boeing 747 that Air Namibia operated and was the only 747 that the airline owned. All the others were leased from South African Airways.
The aircraft registration V5-MNA named “Welwitschia” was delivered to Air Namibia from Boeing in October of 1999 for a whopping $114 million financed by Citibank, London, with a guarantee from the US Export Bank.
Air Namibia sold its 747 Combi to Abu Dhabi
Where the combi version of the plane, passenger/freight comes into its own is that it can accommodate 284 passengers along with 40 tons of cargo. While it served the airline well, its cost proved to be a financial liability. Air Namibia worked out that by getting rid of the Boeing 747 combi, they could save a fortune flying their European routes with leased Airbus A340s-300s
Rather than continuing to try and pay back the loan, Air Namibia put the plane up for sale in 2002 and wait two years until they eventually found a buyer. At the time, the countries biggest daily newspaper, The Namibian, used the headline “Boeing, Boeing, GONE!” to express the government’s delight in finally getting rid of what had proved to be a financial albatross around its neck.
Even with the sale of “Welwitschia,” the Namibian government still owed the bank $10 million. In a deal signed at London’s Radisson Edwardian Mayfair Hotel, the aircraft’s ownership was transferred to Abu Dhabi Amiri Flight, where it was to be configured for the royal family.
Air Namibia folds
Burdened by debt and a collapse in tourism brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Namibian government said that it was suspending all flights and shutting down the national flag carrier last week.
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The decision to fold the airlines was taken after careful consideration with the San Francisco Chronicle reporting the minister of public enterprises Leon Jooste as saying:
“The national airline is not profitable, and it has not been profitable since its inception. The net economic costs of Air Namibia’s operations far outstrip the net gains, and it is thus unsustainable.”
According to Jooste, the Namibian government had spent more than $550 million to keep the airline flying.
“At this stage, the country’s economy can no longer afford to perpetually provide financial support to Air Namibia at the expense of supporting economic growth and critical social services,” he said. “Government considered all other options which included engagement with other airlines for potential investment partnership and various business plans to turnaround the company.”
Did you ever fly on one of Air Namibia’s Boeing 747s? If so, please tell us what it was like in the comments.