In an unforeseen turn of events, Windhoek Airport recently found itself embroiled in a legal dispute that led to significant disruptions in flight operations. The sudden termination of a ground service provider’s contract triggered a cascade of flight cancellations and diversions, affecting several airlines.
On August 19, Windhoek Airport took a drastic step by terminating the contract of its ground handling company, Menzies Aviation, without prior notice. Instead, the airport decided to enlist the services of Paragon Aviation, a joint venture involving the airport and Ethiopian Airlines. This overnight shift caused a ripple effect, leading to the cancellation and diversion of multiple flights that were scheduled to operate out of Hosea Kutako International Airport.
Impact on Airlines
The subsidiary of Lufthansa, Eurowings Discover, bore the brunt of this sudden change. The airline was forced to cancel eight flights originating from Frankfurt and one from Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Moreover, two flights from Frankfurt to Windhoek were diverted to Johannesburg, leaving passengers inconvenienced and requiring alternative arrangements.
The repercussions extended beyond Eurowings Discover. Qatar Airways also had to divert a flight from Doha to Johannesburg due to the upheaval. South African Airlink responded by sending its employees from various locations to assist with ground handling in Windhoek.
The airport’s decision to oust Menzies Aviation without notice was surprising considering a Namibian Supreme Court ruling on August 7, 2023. This ruling affirmed Menzies as the designated ground handling service provider until further notice. This judgement was the latest development in a legal dispute that had been ongoing for several months.
The legal battle between Windhoek Airport and Menzies Aviation had been simmering for quite some time. Although the airport had initially intended to terminate its collaboration with Menzies by June 2022, the Supreme Court confirmed Menzies’ stay. Subsequent appeals and rulings led to a series of conflicting decisions. Ultimately, the August 7 ruling allowed Menzies to remain at Windhoek Airport for 30 days.
The Chaotic Transition
The sudden introduction of Paragon Aviation as the new service provider left airlines like Airlink grappling with the aftermath. With no established contractual relationship with Paragon, logistical challenges arose, including concerns about qualifications and certifications. In response, an urgent transitional process was implemented to facilitate flight operations with Paragon Aviation under special permits.
Meanwhile the legal saga is far from over. The final judgement has been deferred until September 1, 2023. In the interim, Paragon Aviation continues to provide ground handling services.