by Ben Taylor
Air Tanzania clashes with Airbus, faces financial struggles
Air Tanzania’s ongoing dispute with Airbus took a new twist in March, when the airline (ATCL) took the matter to the African Airlines Association (AFRAA), calling on the assistance of four other African airlines to pressurise the manufacturer to find a solution.
Two ATCL planes have been grounded since October 2022 due to failure of its engines, with the airline blaming the manufacturer for failing to secure new engines.
The other airlines called upon for assistance include Air Senegal and Egyptair. The latter reportedly has 12 Airbus aircraft, out of which 10 have been grounded for similar defects.
ATCL’s Director General, Ladislaus Matindi, said that the manufacturer will have to pay ATCL compensation as spelt out in the contract, but complained that the process has taken a long time, and that in the meantime the company is accumulating losses.
Currently, ATCL has a fleet of 12 aircraft, of which three are grounded due to technical and legal issues, including two Airbus with the capacity to carry between 120 and 160 passengers.
Meanwhile, the Controller and Auditor General reported that ATCL incurred a loss of TSh 35.2 billion (around USD $15m) in the financial year 2021/22. This represents a relatively small reduction in losses compared to the previous year, when they stood at TSh 36.1 billion.
Earlier, in February, the Deputy Minister for Works and Transport, Atupele Mwakibete, told Parliament in Dodoma that the government has set aside funds to bailout ATCL. Specifically, he said the government has allocated over TSh 10 billion to settle debts owed to Air Tanzania Company Limited (ATCL) workers.
Preliminary report for Precision Air crash released
In Match, a preliminary report on the Precision Air plane crash was released by the Works and Transport Ministry through the Aircraft Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB).
A Precision Air aircraft with 39 passengers and four crew on board crashed into Lake Victoria on November 6 last year as it was flying from Dar es Salaam to Bukoba. Nineteen people died in the accident [see TA134].
According to the report, the weather in Bukoba was poor when the plane went down and the crew did not respond appropriately to a series of warnings from the plane’s enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS). The aircraft was on final approach to Bukoba Airport in marginal weather conditions when the EGPWS warned about the excessively high descent rate three times. “The warning was not followed by corrective action of the flight crew. Instead, the flight crew pushed the control column into a nose down position,” the report says.
Prior to the crash, the plane circled for about 20 minutes in heavy rain, prompting the flight crew to make right and left turns in order to navigate through narrow weather windows. “Marginal visibility caused high workload among the crew and may have contributed to the failure to react to terrain warnings during the final approach.”
The aircraft and its crew were in good shape, according to the report. “There is no evidence to suggest the flight crew were not fit and healthy prior to the flight,” it says. The aircraft had valid registration, airworthiness and release-to-service certificates and the required scheduled maintenance had been conducted.
Air Transport Accident Investigation assistant director, Mr Redemptus Bugomola, emphasised that the latest findings were merely observations about what happened during the ill-fated flight. “The final report will be released at the conclusion of the investigation. It will include causal and contributory factors of the accident,” he explained.
The final report is due by November 2023, at the conclusion of a deeper investigation being conducted jointly by aviation experts representing the Tanzanian government, privately-owned Precision Air, and the aircraft’s manufacturers in France.
Mr Gaudence Temu, an aviation expert, said the Precision Air accident should be viewed as an opportunity to learn lessons to prevent similar incidents in the future. “Every incident has a lesson to offer. We need to adhere to the rules and regulations because they are there for a reason,” he said. He added that in his view the flight crew were blameless, and the disaster was caused entirely by bad weather.
KLM briefly suspends flights to Tanzania
Air France-KLM briefly suspended flights to Tanzania in late January, citing claims of civil unrest in the country. The airline resumed flights three days later, and issued an official apology to the government of Tanzania.
It may be coincidental that shortly before the airline’s suspension of flights, the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam warned that “Terrorist groups could attack with little or no warning targeting hotels, embassies, restaurants, malls and markets, police stations, mosques and other frequented places by Westerners.” KLM itself made no public reference to the Embassy’s warning. The Tanzania Police Force assured the public that the country was safe.
While the suspension was in force, Tanzania’s Ministry of Information, Communication and Information Technology issued a statement noting “with great concern the false claims being spread by some foreign institutions and companies that there is civil unrest in Tanzania.” They dismissed the KLM claims as “baseless, alarmist, unfounded, inconsiderate and insensitive”.
“Our agencies remain vigilant to ensure the safety and protection of individuals and their property…. we are cooperating with our partner states to interdict any security threat,” the statement said.
After the issue was resolved, the Minister Prof Makame Mbarawa thanked and appreciated all those aviation stakeholders who had disregarded the “unfounded and baseless” claims and continued with their operations.
Uber draws criticism
The ride-sharing service, Uber, has drawn criticism for its “ruthless practices” in its control of drivers across Africa, including Tanzania. According to Global Information Society Watch (GISWatch), in the decade since Uber’s launch on the continent, the vision of the inclusion and empowerment of African workers in a new, flexible, egalitarian world of work has not materialised. Instead, African labour has been commodified within new digital value chains, which funnel much of the value to northern corporations.
This controversy has played out prominently in Tanzania. When, in March 2022, the government tried to determine a per-kilometre ride-hailing rate and force companies to lower their commissions to 15% amid soaring fuel prices, Uber suspended its operations in the country, giving one day’s notice of its plans. Its main competitor, Bolt, also significantly reduced its operations. Uber resumed operations in Tanzania six months later, apparently having reached an agreement to work with the regulator. Shortly after this, the government agreed to allow Uber and others to charge 25% commission and a 3% booking fee.
Uber thus made it clear that it is willing to leave urban African transport systems in the lurch if and when regulators try to take steps to protect drivers’ pay. The company says it “rigorously engages” with drivers and takes their feedback on board.
MV Mwanza launched on Lake Victoria
The much anticipated MV Mwanza launched its operations in the waters of Lake Victoria in February with a number of senior government officials taking part in the ceremony.
Bearing the nickname ‘Hapa Kazi Tu’, the MV Mwanza is a 1200-passenger ship constructed at Mwanza shipyard. The vessel is 92m long and powered by twin engines, and is designed to carry over 1000 passengers, 400 tonnes of general cargo, 20 cars and three (3) trucks. It will ply between Mwanza and Bukoba ports in Tanzania as well as Kisumu port of Kenya and Port Bell in the Nakawa Division of Kampala, in Uganda.
Bridge to Zanzibar proposed
Tanzania is set to build a bridge that will connect the mainland to the Islands of Zanzibar to ease movement of goods and people, according to the deputy minister of Works and Transport Godfrey Kasekenya. He was speaking in Parliament in April.
Kasekenya said that authorities had met with the prospective investors of M/S China Overseas Engineering Group Company (COVEC), who have shown interest in building the bridge. He said the outcome of the meeting is still being worked on by the governments of Tanzania and Zanzibar. If undertaken, the 50km bridge will be the longest in Africa.