Zimbabwe Airways ready to take off

A NEW and debt-free national airline, Zimbabwe Airways, is expected to be unveiled next month — most likely on November 9 all things being equal — as the country seeks to reposition its flag carrier to become one of the best on the continent.

The Sunday Mail Business has it on good authority that Government, in conjunction with Air Zimbabwe and Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (Caaz) management, is working round the clock to tie up the deal.

It is widely expected that five long-haul planes, and potentially six smaller ones with a carrying capacity of 50 passengers, are expected to be launched early next month.

The smaller aircraft will be leased from ECC Leasing, a Brazilian aircraft leasing company, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Embraer.

ECC Leasing was established in 2002 to manage and remarket its pre-owned aircraft. Considered to be the world’s third largest civil aircraft manufacturer, Embraer has been popular for supplying airlines such as Fastjet – currently operating in the region – with planes that are ideal for budget and low-cost services.

In fact, in 2013 Air Zimbabwe leased its first 50-seater Embraer jet from the Johannesburg-based Solenta Aviation that was specifically used for the domestic market.

Sources close to the deal for long- haul planes said it is being negotiated between Government and its all-weather friend, Malaysia.

The deal is expected to see Zimbabwe leasing five planes.

Branding of the planes to carry the new name — Zimbabwe Airways — is said to have been concluded.

Said the sources: “The Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (Caaz) and the Transport Ministry are working tirelessly to ensure that the deal for the new planes comes to fruition.

“If there are no major changes, the plans are that the planes should be launched in Harare on November 9 when the Harare International Airport will be renamed R. G. Mugabe International Airport,” added the source.

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Caaz chief executive officer Mr David Chaota could not be reached for comment last week while Air Zimbabwe chief executive officer Captain Ripton Muzenda was not answering his mobile phone.

Transport Minister Dr Joram Gumbo last week confirmed that a new company called Zimbabwe Airways is set to be established.

However, Dr Gumbo declined to confirm that the five planes are coming on November 9, saying he will announce the finer details of the deal at the “appropriate time”.

Last week, Zimbabwe Airways flighted several recruitment adverts for several posts including pilots, chief operations officer, executive assistant to the CEO, marketing executive, chief financial officer, maintenance planning manager, manager flight operations, IT manager, chief pilot and supervisor operations control centre, among others.

Asked to comment if Zimbabwe Airways will be the new name for the national airline, Dr Gumbo tersely said: “Yes, it’s the one.”

Pressed to confirm if it was true that the leased aircraft will be unveiled on November 9, Minister Gumbo said: “I will say at the appropriate time. Those are speculations, and we (will) raise people’s anxieties unnecessarily.

“So we will talk when the time comes. (At the moment) I don’t have that information. The project is mine but what you are talking about is not orrect.”

Government wants to freshen up the operations of Air Zimbabwe, which has been dogged by inefficiencies resulting in a debt burden of US$334 million.

Cabinet recently okayed the takeover of Air Zimbabwe’s debt, together with Ziscosteel, the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), Caaz and the Cold Storage Commission, as part of efforts to make the firms attractive to potential suitors.

Overall, the critical parastatals’ debts are just over US$1 billion.

Recently, Dr Gumbo told The Sunday Mail Business that the national airline would bring in smaller aircraft in October, adding that a few weeks before the planes arrive, he would “need more publicity”.

The smaller planes will ply regional and international destinations such as Angola, DRC, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Singapore.

Air Zimbabwe is battling to restore passenger confidence following years of under-performance marred by delayed departures and cancelled flights. – Sunday Mail

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