Ques­tions sur­round launch of new Zim­bab­wean air­line

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - AFRICA - PETA THORNYCROFT

ZIM­BABWE Air­ways, a new com­pany, seem­ingly es­tab­lished to avoid mas­sive debts of bank­rupt Air Zim­babwe, and which is linked to the Mu­gabe fam­ily, is set to be launched in the next cou­ple of weeks. It is also try­ing to hire pilots for routes it is try­ing to se­cure.

Many ex­pect Air Zim­babwe, which flies daily into Jo­han­nes­burg, and which has been in op­er­a­tion for more then 70 years, may soon cease to ex­ist. Or its di­min­ish­ing as­sets may be ab­sorbed by the new com­pany.

Air Zim­babwe can­not fly to Lon­don for safety rea­sons and was grounded at Gatwick Air­port in 2012 for two weeks by a US sup­plier of spare parts. Af­ter the US debt was fi­nally paid, Air Zim­babwe de­cided not to con­tinue fly­ing to Lon­don.

Air Zim­babwe has only three func­tion­ing air­craft. When the Boe­ing 767 is used by Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe, at least once a month, other pas­sen­gers are not al­lowed on board.

The new air­line is ex­pected to be launched in the next two weeks to co­in­cide with the re­nam­ing of Harare In­ter­na­tional Air­port to the RG Mu­gabe Air­port.

In­de­pen­dent Me­dia es­tab­lished that Robert Mu­gabe’s son-in-law, Simba Chikore, who has no known air­line man­age­ment ex­pe­ri­ence, has had much to do with the estab­lish­ment of Zim­babwe Air­ways.

Ear­lier this year, In­de­pen­dent Me­dia re­vealed that Chikore was try­ing to se­cure leases of two Boe­ing 777s from fi­nan­cially trou­bled Air Malaysia for the new com­pany.

Zim­babwe Air­ways has asked an Ir­ish com­pany, Sigma, to se­cure pilots at higher rates of pay. The Dublin-based com­pany is telling ap­pli­cants that al­though Air Zim­babwe is in fi­nan­cial straits, it is work­ing for Zim­babwe Air­ways.

It is not clear how the Mu­gabe fam­ily or even the gov­ern­ment will fund Zim­babwe Air­ways. Zim­babwe does not have its own cur­rency, it mainly uses elec­tronic, or “phan­tom” cash, or lo­cally printed cash, known as bond notes, which are also hard to come by.

So far the black mar­ket rate be­tween real cash, such as US dol­lars or South African rand, and Zim­babwe’s elec­tronic cash, has not been built into the cost of tick­ets bought in Zim­babwe.

But that won’t last for long, as SAA, for ex­am­ple, is fi­nan­cially strapped and will not be able to sub­sidise the real cost of air tick­ets be­tween South Africa and Zim­babwe for much longer.

There are a host of un­known tech­ni­cal de­tails about Zim­babwe Air­ways, such as who will carry out the main­te­nance of the new Boe­ing 777s.

Air Zim­babwe’s ground sup­port is shabby and un­re­li­able and it has only one pas­sen­ger bus, while the run­way at the Harare air­port is in poor shape, with dim night light­ing and no radar.

Zim­babwe’s for­mer finance min­is­ter, Pa­trick Chi­na­masa, had a rep­u­ta­tion for try­ing to cut gov­ern­ment spend­ing. Many say Zim­babwe Air­ways would never have been launched on his watch.

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