BULAWAYO – Air Zimbabwe has flown its Boeing 777 to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, as the struggling airline moves to conclude a lease agreement for the aircraft delivered from Malaysia in January.
The US$16.5 million plane, acquired from Malaysia Airlines, was flown by German pilot Werner Heumann, who arrived in Harare on Monday aboard an Ethiopian Airlines flight which was repatriating 30 Zimbabwean nationals who had been trapped by coronavirus lockdowns in several overseas countries.
While the Zimbabweans, most returning from the United Kingdom and the United States, were taken to a facility in Harare for a mandatory 14-day quarantine, Heumann and a Swiss national, Simon Erwin Jungen, had been allowed into the country, puzzling some airport officials.
Heumann’s special mission became clear, however, on Tuesday when he captained the flight to Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, landing at 3.38PM CAT.
A senior Air Zimbabwe executive told ZimLive that a deal to lease the aircraft was in the works, and they had judged it to be beneficial to position the plane at Addis Ababa, one of Africa’s busiest airports.
“The plane is going to Addis Ababa for positioning and possible leasing out. We have been in negotiations with a few airlines who have shown interest, and Ethiopian are leading that pack. They have agreed to take possession of the aircraft for now, and will maintain it, while the talks continue,” the official said.
Air Zimbabwe, with debts of over US$300 million, suspended overseas flights to London and Beijing in 2011 over threats to seize its aircraft by creditors.
Air Zimbabwe says it currently has no capacity to resume the international flights, and is aiming at growing its domestic and regional presence to stabilise its operations.
The airline currently flies a single plane, a Boeing 767, on domestic and regional flights to Dar es Salaam and Johannesburg.
In 2016, ministers secretly created a debt-free new national airline – Zimbabwe Airways – in the hope that it would be capacitated with airplanes and eventually rise from Air Zimbabwe’s ashes. The new airline collapsed after the plan was exposed, leaving Air Zimbabwe to take over negotiations to acquire two Boeing 777 aircraft from Malaysia and an Embraer ERJ 145 from the United States.
Only one of the Boeing 777s and the Embraer have been delivered. The 15-year-old B777 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 the late former president Robert Gabriel Mugabe.