HomePoliticsAir Zim losing out to regional airlines

Air Zim losing out to regional airlines

Itai Dzamara

AIR Zimbabwe is reeling under unprecedented operational problems which have seen the national airline losing its market niche in the region.

ace=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>Air Zimbabwe general manager Rambai Chingwena in an interview this week admitted that the company only had three planes operational out of its fleet of five. At Independence in 1980 Air Zimbabwe was a self-sustaining company which operated 15 aircraft.

Chingwena said the chronic fuel shortages which have bedevilled the country over the past three years, together with foreign currency shortages, had disabled the national airline. The situation had opened a door to other regional carriers to take over Air Zimbabwe’s routes.

“When we compare ourselves with other airlines such as South African Airways, Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airways and Air Mauritius, to which group we regard ourselves as belonging, we have a lot of work to do,” said Chingwena. “We are lagging far behind these airlines.”

He said the tough economic climate had seen the airline losing engineers, artisans and pilots.

“Yes, we have been losing vital skills through the brain drain, both in the engineering and pilots sectors. Fuel shortages have affected us the same as the rest of the economy. However, we are working towards replacing the lost personnel,” he said.

Long strikes by engineers and pilots earlier this year soured the relationship between management and workers, culminating in a massive exodus to other airlines in the region and overseas. Chingwena said they were replacing the lost personnel through recruiting and training and now had about 30 experienced pilots as well as more than 100 engineers.

Air Zimbabwe’s operations came to a virtual halt in May owing to fuel shortages. Since then it has been struggling to fully service routes.

Standards continue to plummet with one of the aircraft currently grounded following an accident last month resulting from failure to do proper maintenance checks.

Sources at the airline said Air Zimbabwe’s major flights from Harare to South Africa and to London as well as local routes were intermittently postponed due to the myriad problems affecting the company.

Chingwena however denied that flights were being persistently postponed. “I know of delays now and again due to operational and technical problems,” he said.

South African Airways, which runs a fleet of over 100 aircraft, has been making huge profits by filling the void created by Air Zimbabwe’s problems.

“South African Airways is actually increasing flights into Victoria Falls, showing how tourism continues to be the potential sector through which we can revive the economy,” said Chingwena.

Meanwhile, Chingwena said he has instigated a probe into the incident that caused damage to one of the Boeing 767-200’s engines that caught fire last month on its way to Ghana for a lease.

The aircraft damaged cowlings that cover the engine when a fire broke out in one of the ducts soon after take off from Harare International Airport. The accident has been attributed to failure to do proper maintenance checks.

“We have initiated an inquiry into the whole incident, therefore I wouldn’t give many details now for that would be pre-empting the initiative,” said Chingwena.

“I also can’t divulge the amount of money required to repair the aircraft but there is no doubt it would be a very substantial amount,” he said. Sources at Air Zimbabwe said that repairing the damaged aircraft, which would need spares to be imported would cost more than $3 billion.

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