HARARE – 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.