Thousands stranded as ground handlers are ‘evicted’ from Namibian airport

‘We arrived at Windhoek airport to check in, only to find out our flight had been cancelled’

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Tuesday 22 August 2023 07:54 BST
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<p>The dispute has caused last-minute changes to flight schedules </p>

The dispute has caused last-minute changes to flight schedules

Thousands of passenger, including returning British holidaymakers, are stranded in Namibia due to a bizarre commercial dispute at the African nation’s main airport.

The multinational ground handler Menzies Aviation was suddenly “evicted” from Windhoek’s Hosea Kutako International Airport (HKIA) in the early hours of Saturday morning, 19 August. A local company, Paragon, has taken over ground-handling operations.

Without agreements and safety audits in place with the new firm, international airlines were obliged to cancel or divert flights.

A Qatar Airways flight from Doha to the Namibian capital on Saturday morning was diverted at short notice to Johannesburg.

The Boeing 787 had just entered Namibian airspace when it turned south and flew across Botswana to South Africa’s biggest airport.

The plane remained in Johannesburg overnight and flew on to Windhoek, arriving on Sunday afternoon.

Windhoek’s main link with Europe is operated by Lufthansa’s subsidiary, Eurowings Discover, which normally links the capital with Frankfurt up to 10 times a week.

Alison Harrison was booked to fly with the airline from Windhoek in Namibia to London Heathrow via Frankfurt on Saturday.

She told The Independent: “We arrived at the airport to check in to find out it had been cancelled. We waited hours to find out from staff that the ground crew had been evicted the night before.

“We were transported to a hotel and given dinner, bed and breakfast. Our flight has been rebooked by Lufthansa for Thursday 24 August. We have booked ourselves into another hotel in the meantime.”

A spokesperson for Lufthansa said: ”Eurowings Discover was informed without notice in the early morning of 19 August that the ground handling provider Menzies Aviation no longer has access to Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek.

“For some time now, a court case has been ongoing in Namibia between the two ground handling providers Menzies Aviation and Paragon Aviation to negotiate who will take over handling at Windhoek Airport in the future.

“This decision came as a surprise to Eurowings Discover, as there is a court order from the High Court in Namibia dated 7 August 2023 confirming Menzies Aviation as the responsible ground handling provider until further notice.

“As a result, no handling of Eurowings Discover flights has been possible in Windhoek since Saturday, as there is no valid contractual relationship with the new provider, Paragon Aviation.

“Furthermore, questions regarding qualification, training and certification have to be clarified. Eurowings Discover is in close contact with the local authorities and Windhoek Airport to find a solution to resume flights as soon as possible.

“We very much regret the inconvenience for our guests and are working flat out to find solutions and provide replacement capacity, eg with our local partner Airlink.”

The Namibia Airport Company, which runs the capital’s airport and ordered the eviction, said: “All stakeholders are hereby requested and implored to fully cooperate with Paragon as the legitimate provider of ground handling services at HKIA.

“Eviction of Menzies from HKIA was justified as it allowed Paragon to commence rendering ground handling services at HKIA, coupled with the judgment of the Supreme Court that permitted the eviction of Menzies from HKIA.

“We will continue to closely liaise with all stakeholders to ensure seamless provision of ground handling services at HKIA.”

The Independent has asked Menzies Aviation for a response.

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