HARARE – Acting President Constantino Chiwenga made a toast to “the revival of Air Zimbabwe and the revamping of our tourism” on Monday as Air Zimbabwe received a long-haul Boeing 777-200 bought from Malaysia Airlines.
The order for the US$16.5 million plane was initially placed in 2016 as part of an elaborate scheme by ministers to create a debt-free state-owned airline, before collapsing Air Zimbabwe which has huge debts of over US$300 million.
Zimbabwe Airways, which was headed by Simba Chikore, the son-in-law of the late former president Robert Mugabe, failed to take off after Air Zimbabwe’s creditors became aware of the apparent ploy by the Zimbabwe government to create a proxy.
The order was initially for four planes, but George Charamba, the spokesman for the presidency, said they were only expecting a second Boeing 777-200 from Malaysia in early February, “closing the transaction from that source”.
The government is pinning hopes on Air Zimbabwe’s revival to breathe life to the tourism sector, but the airline would have to move quickly to make peace with its international creditors to avoid its aircraft being impounded overseas.
Air Zimbabwe must also get itself removed from the European Union’s Air Safety List, the record of non-European airlines that do not meet international safety standards, and are therefore subject to an operating ban or operational restrictions within the European Union. The airline was added to the list in 2017 “due to unaddressed safety deficiencies that were detected by the European Aviation Safety Agency during the assessment for a third country operator authorisation.”
Air Zimbabwe is aiming to revive its overseas routes to China and the United Kingdom, which the government hopes will improve convenience for international tourists.
The airline has a “pivotal role in tourism as well as ensuring that it acts as an enabler of economic growth and development,” government spokesman Ndavaningi Mangwana said.
The B777 which landed in Harare on Monday is 15-years-old and has been parked since 2015 after Malaysia Airlines decided to retire its entire B777 fleet following the disappearance without trace of MH370 in 2014 and the downing of MH17 by a missile over Ukraine in the same year.
The plane, bearing registration Z-RGM, was named in honour of Mugabe. It landed at the airport in Harare, also named after Mugabe, just after midday.