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CAAZ battles to stay afloat

DEBT-LADEN Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) is struggling to stay afloat as most of its flight equipment is obsolete and its capacity utilisation remains at an all time low of around 20% since the introduction of the multiple currency regime 18 months ago.

CAAZ chief executive officer David Chawota made the revelation when he gave evidence to the Transport and Infrastructural Development parliamentary portfolio committee on the state of airports and operations of the authority on Tuesday.
“We are operating at a deficit. Our capacity utilisation is at 20% and most of our properties are lying idle. The authority is just managing, we are living from hand to mouth,” Chawota said. “Ground to air communication systems need to be upgraded, in fact they need to be replaced. The surveillance system at Harare International Airport is outdated. It was bought in 1992. Normally this type of equipment has a life expectancy of between 10 and 12 years. In other words it is long overdue for replacement.”
CAAZ said the decade-long economic meltdown which the country experienced since the turn of the century has also negatively contributed to the low capacity utilisation at the authority.
“Underutilisation of airports was a result of low air traffic. Traffic has gone down since 1997 to 2009. It dropped from an all time high of 82 000 to the current low of 30 000 flights per annum. Thus, capacity utilisation and revenue generation have become a real challenge,” Chawota said.
The authority has international debts to the tune of US$150 million and most of the debt was contracted for the now obsolete equipment. More than 10 airlines, among them Qantas, British Airways, Air France and Lufthansa discontinued flights to the country for both economic and political reasons.
Committee chairperson Blessing Chebundo asked him when the split of the authority would be completed so that two entities, one for services and the other for regulating aviation, would be done.
“We are still a regulatory authority and service provider,” Chawota responded. “Separation of functions is at an advanced stage. The cabinet is reviewing the legislation. A new Act will have to be promulgated and the new entities created. The separation should go ahead.”
The embattled aviation authority is operating without a board after the last board’s term expired at the end of 2009 and the minister has not appointed a new one. This has further complicated matters at the authority as no one is currently giving policy direction.
Meanwhile, the committee this week criticised Air Zimbabwe for abandoning the Harare-Luanda-Kinshasa route, accusing the national airline of making an unpatriotic decision without taking into consideration Zimbabwe’s intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1998 and 2000.  
Former Mashonaland West Governor and Hurungwe North MP Peter Chanetsa made the attack against Air Zimbabwe management when it appeared before the portfolio committee on Tuesday to give evidence on its restructuring exercise, recapitalisation project and update on its retrenchment scheme.
“We lost our lives defending Congo. Now other airlines are enjoying our sweat,” Chanetsa said amid cheers from fellow members of the committee. “What happened to the internal services we were given by Congo to service Mbujumayi, Kinshasa and Katanga?”
Zimbabwe deployed about 12 000 soldiers to help prop up the fragile Congolese government of the late Laurent Kabila, which was fighting against rebels from Rwanda and Uganda who wanted to create independent states in the vast central African country.
In response, Air Zimbabwe chief executive officer Peter Chikumba said: “Air Zim applied and sought business. The internal operations in Congo then were intended to generate cash in foreign currency. We got out after it was no longer viable to do so. The operations are now being run by a joint partnership between South Africa and a local airline. For us, it is better to operate as a through line.  It was no longer viable to operate internally. There were skirmishes and other associated security risks in the country (Congo).”

Paidamoyo Muzulu

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