The surprise impounding of an Air Tanzania Airbus A220-300 on August 23 at Johannesburg Oliver Tambo International Airport continues to stir emotions. Demonstrators at the South African embassy in Dar es Salaam are demanding the swift release of the aircraft while the Tanzanian government works through the legal procedures to get the twinjet back in the air.
The A220, registered as 5H-TCH, was preparing to perform the return flight to Dar es Salaam’s Julius Nyerere International Airport when it was seized by South African authorities. Air Tanzania took delivery of the new jetliner from Airbus in December 2018. It currently operates two of the type alongside one Boeing 787, three de Havilland Canada Dash 8 Q400 turboprops, and one Dash 8 Q300.
The aircraft was seized following a court order from Guateng High Court in South Africa. The case is related to a retired South African farmer who claims that the Tanzanian government owes him $33 million in a land compensation dispute that dates back to the 1980s.
In an email response to AIN, Air Tanzania head of communications Joseph Kagirwa said the airline could not comment “since the issue is in the court.”
Hassan Abbasi, a spokesperson with the government of Tanzania, confirmed the prolonged dispute, though stressed it was unrelated to the airline. “The government and the farmer agreed for the farm to be nationalized; however, the issue arose on the compensation. It came to a point where both parties agreed and the farmer was paid some amount,” he said. Lawyers for Tanzanian government are in South Africa working on the case, he said, adding that the “plane shall soon resume work as normal.”
The claimant’s lawyer Roger Wakefield told media that his client was owed $33 million including interest in compensation from the Tanzanian government after his farm was confiscated decades ago. “If we have to auction it [the A220] we certainly will,” Wakefield insisted. “It will remain under attachment until they pay the debt or put up security for the claim.”
The government of Tanzania in 2016 decided to revive its loss-making national airline by paying off its debts, providing new capital, and purchasing a new fleet. Air Tanzania Company Limited (ATCL) is 100 percent state-owned.