AIR Zimbabwe had five air turn-backs in the past two weeks alone raising alarm over the safety of the airline, aviation sources have said.
Although Air Zimbabwe spokesperson David Mwenga made spirited denials, businessdigest was reliably informed that the turn-backs had occurred in the last week of August and the first week of September.
An air turn-back occurs when a plane is cleared for take-off but turns back mid-air soon after departure after the detection of an anomaly by the cabin or ground crew.
The sources said the problem was largely because the airline was losing skilled technical personnel and was left with newly qualified engineers and other technical staff who were still learning the ropes.
“We had five turn-backs in the space of two weeks. This is alarming as the new guys are still familiarising,” said one of the sources.
“Most of them still use huge manuals when doing their duties. They are not yet that familiar with procedures and are bound to miss a thing or two thus compromising security,” .
Mwenga disputed the claims saying the airline had made five air turn-backs in three months and said the turn-backs had been necessitated to safeguard passenger lives.
“It is not true that we had five (turn-backs) in two weeks. We had that many in three months. We do not apologise for that. The primary issue is that we want to keep our passengers safe. This is a technical animal we will be flying and when we feel that something is wrong, then an air turn-back will occur,” Mwenga said.
Mwenga said 16 engineers had left the airline in the past 12 months because of the worsening economic crisis.
“Sixteen engineers have left the airline in the past 12 months because of the challenges in the economy, and the majority of the 16 in the past six months as the challenges increased,” Mwenga said.
He said the current Air Zimbabwe group chief executive officer Peter Chikumba had worked hard to improve the remuneration of engineers resulting in only 11 of 40 remaining engineers who had been offered jobs from South Africa and the Middle East leaving the airline.
“Not withstanding, the airline is well aware that more engineers, just like a lot of skilled personnel elsewhere in the economy, could still get tempted to leave given the economic climate in the country and the healthier packages being offered elsewhere,” Mwenga said.
Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) chief executive officer David Chaota refused to comment.
“I don’t want to talk about that. It is a security matter. Your sister paper (The Standard) refused to respect that it was a secret matter when they phoned me last time, so I will not tell you anything,” said Chaota.
The Standard revealed two weeks ago that CAAZ was investigating one air turn-back in an Air Zimbabwe Boeing 737 plane chartered by retired General Solomon Mujuru which had to be called back to Harare International Airport after it was discovered that it had been allowed to take off with some of its panels open.
The troubled state airline has been faced with numerous challenges which include biting fuel shortages that have taken their toll on the airline.
This week 11 passengers found themselves stranded at Harare International Airport after they were told that the flight from Harare servicing the Kariba-Victoria Falls-Johannesburg route was fully booked.