Cameroon Airlines out of business

March 30th, 2008 by bobebill

After a failed attempt to privatise Cameroon’s State-owned carrier, government has finally decided on an eventual burial of the company
(From The Herald, adapted from Jeune Afrique)

Cameroon’s lone international carrier, Cameroon Airlines (CAMAIR), is currently in the throes of death. On 14 March, government placed the company on liquidation after refusing to renew the contract of Paul Ngamo Hamani, provisional administrator since 23 February 2005.

In his place will be appointed two co-liquidators; one to work on financial aspects and the other on judicial aspects, “without stepping on toes”, announced Lazare Essimi Menye, Cameroon’s minister of Finance.

At the same time, a new management team was put in place on 19 March, to ensure the resumption of CAMAIR flights (suspended more than two weeks ago), especially to and from Paris. This route represents 80 percent of the carrier’s traffic and much of its revenue.

Flights were scheduled to resume on 22 March. But this date was rather tentative as authorities were still in search of a strategic partner to manage the new subsidiary of the carrier, CAMAIRCO, created by President Paul Biya in September 2006.

Will this change of outfit be sufficient to save CAMAIR? It is doubtful, considering the erratic nature of the handling of the dossier. Appointed on 19 March, Adolphe Sammet Bell, who has worked with the carrier for 30 years, is the sixth manager of CAMAIR in a little over a decade. While he was second in command, government tried for four years, in vain, to privatise the company.

“With a renewable six-month contract, Paul Ngamo Hamani lacked visibility. He was also not given the means to develop a real plan to re-launch the company,” a source close to the dossier said.

Despite these, he managed to reduce the bloated staff of the company from 1309 to 800 employees, thereby reducing the monthly salary from 700 million to 400 million FCFA.

This is an outstanding performance, but it was still insufficient to save a company pressed down by an 80 billion FCFA debt and which owns only one plane, the famous Dja (Boeing 767-300), currently impounded at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Meantime, the search for a strategic partner does not seem to be advancing. Since the second call for tender in June 2007, nothing has changed, partly because government does not seem to know its destination, after annulling the provisional adjudication constituted by the Belgian company, Brussels Airlines, and a Cameroonian venture capital company, Cenainvest.

“It is not necessary to go through a privatisation. CAMAIRCO can maintain its public status, on condition that the private partner is given total liberty to manage the company, following the respect of a cahier des charges determined by the State,” explains an expert who is working on the dossier.

While waiting, the American carrier, United Airlines, that was once mentioned as being interested has not yet made a move.