The airline’s chief executive officer, Peter Chikumba, who was aboard the daily UM362 flight to and from Johannesburg, yesterday confirmed the incident.
The flight was redirected to Bulawayo after the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (Caaz) systems failed to grant pilots permission to land because the runway had no lights.
Passengers aboard the plane spent several hours in Bulawayo before flying back and arriving in Harare after midnight when the problem was fixed.
“I can confirm that there was a flight delay, but the Civil Aviation Authority can best explain reasons for the divert (to Bulawayo),” Chikumba said in a telephone interview with the Zimbabwe Independent.
Caaz runs all airports in the country.
The authority’s general manager, David Chaota, last night confirmed the incident saying there “is a problem on the runway and of power supply”.
“There are serious challenges on both power and runway lights and we are working on them,” Chaota said. “According to our plan, in two weeks time we should have a solution on the runway problem, but for power it’s a 2010 issue because we are engaging other players like Zesa.”
He said the flight “was on hold” for 30 minutes before it was diverted to Bulawayo.
Sources at Harare International Airport said the plane was diverted after generators at the terminal failed to power the airport after scheduled electricity load-shedding by Zesa. The power utility last week embarked on a two week load-shedding programme expected to cut power by 250 megawatts.
The flight’s delay, sources said, came after a South African Airways flight was “recently” forced to divert to Bulawayo airport, prompting concerns of Caaz’s preparedness to host international airlines.
“Our aviation is facing serious problems,” said the source. “Passengers scheduled to arrive in Harare early ended up arriving at 1am due to the flight delays. South African Airways has also experienced similar problems and this is not desirable for the industry.”
Caaz recently won an award which “merits International Gold Star for Quality in the realm of customer satisfaction, innovation and technology as established in QC1OO Total Quality management control”.
Meanwhile, unlike in recent years where the national airline struggled to remain operational due to fuel problems that hit the country, Air Zimbabwe is currently seeking US$750 million capital to renew its aircraft fleet and hanger fire protection system.
If a potential deal sails through, government could surrender 60% shareholding of the struggling airline to a private investor.