AIR Zimbabwe is likely run a bill in access of US$2 million (about $40 billion) in the next two months from the lease of a Boeing 767-300 plane from PB Air of Thailand.
The plane, which comes into service today, will be a relief for its Boeing 767-200 which is currently undergoing a C-class service check by national airline engineers at Harare International Airport.
The terms and conditions of the lease arrangement, which have been kept a closely-guarded secret after its chief executive Tendai Mahachi left Thailand to negotiate the deal, will see the national carrier paying US$3 200 per flight hour.
The plane is expected to fly for up to 70 hours a week for two months. There are also insurance costs and minor services which are pegged in United States dollars over the duration of the lease agreement.
The 245-seater plane, which was put into service in 1999, is expected to cater for Airzim’s Asian markets under government’s Look East policy.
The plane is expected to make its maiden flight into the country tonight from Beijing and then make a return flight to the Chinese capital.
The plane under the lease agreement will also be expected to make two weekly scheduled flights from Harare to Beijing via Dubai and Bangkok, Thailand while it retains its owners’ PB Air livery.
The flights to Bangkok will be Airzim’s first after the national carrier failed to launch the route as planned in July under its Asian expansion plan.
Currently Air Zimbabwe is charging $25 million for a return ticket to the Chinese capital Beijing, and $12 million for a return ticket to Dubai.
Travellers to Bangkok will be expected to folk out $28,4 million for a return ticket.
Mahachi confirmed the airline was folking out over US$3 200 for every hour the plane is in the air under the Thailand lease agreement.
He however refused to disclose further conditions of the deal saying the lease agreement was in favour of the national carrier as the rate paid was far below the uniform IATA rate which is in the region of between US$3 500-US$8 000 per hour depending on the age and size of the aircraft.
“We are lucky that we found a favourable deal which is charging us far below the normal IATA rates considering the size of the plane,” Mahachi said.
He said the decision to lease the aircraft had been necessitated by the need to maintain the airline’s current routes while remaining consistent in new routes.
“The decision to lease to plane has been mainly influenced by the need for us as an airline to maintain our routes and customer base,” said Mahachi.
“You have to realise the Asian routes have registered tremendous growth over the past few months,” said Mahachi.
The airline chief also confirmed the use of army engineering personnel in its operations.
“Yes we do have army engineering personnel working for us. This is under a secondment agreement we have entered with the army as part of their training process,” Mahachi said.
He also said the airline was planning to train army pilots in flying civilian planes in the near future.
“We are also looking at training pilots to fly some of our planes such as the MA60 as these are similar to some of their planes currently in service,” said Mahachi.
The Air Zimbabwe chief said the third MA60, which was offered for free under the purchase arrangement of the initial two planes with China, was due to arrive in December or early next year.
“The free MA60 is due to arrive in December or early next year. It will be used by the airline for routes such as Mutare and Buffalo Range. Currently one of the MA60 is plying the Joburg route,” Mahachi said.