Regional airlines establish false partnerships

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INDIGENOUS Zimbabweans are fronting for foreign airlines that want to take advantage of the various opportunities in the country’s domestic aviation market, in violation of indigenisation laws, a government official said.

Report by Staff Writer

Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Transport Munesu Munodawafa told businessdigest regional airlines were approaching local Zimbabweans to establish false partnerships so that the companies could claim to be indigenous owned and meet licensing requirements.

The players are seeking to fill the gap created by the absence of a viable national carrier after Air Zimbabwe failed to effectively resume flights.

“Some of these people that come to register are not Zimbabwean operators, they appear to be indigenous but they are foreign institutions wearing a Zimbabwean face,” said Munodawafa in an interview.

“Some are coming from South Africa because of the issues to do with our Bilateral Air Service Agreements which stipulate the maximum frequencies they can have. South Africa have almost used up theirs.”
The licensed indigenous operators have failed to take off, citing government’s bad route allocation system, saying it was proscriptive and skewed in favour of Air Zimbabwe.

They argue it is not economically viable to develop new routes without getting the major domestic routes as the Harare-Bulawayo-Victoria Falls-Harare route, currently reserved for Air Zimbabwe.

Developing new routes takes at least two years, according to aviation experts. Following a September tourism all stakeholders’ meeting in which industry players identified the need for viable domestic airlines,  a team led by Zimbabwe Tourism Authority chief executive Karikoga Kaseke  met Munodawafa to negotiate for liberalisation of the skies.

“The meeting resolved that the permanent secretary will have to look into this issue and talk to his minister; which I know he is already doing. If need be then the minister will talk to cabinet, but at the moment I don’t think there is any problem in that area,” said the ZTA chief.

For more than a year, indigenous aviation company Sol Aviation Private Limited (Sol Air) has been seeking approval to ply the Harare-Bulawayo, Harare- Victoria Falls routes which it says are profitable.

Sol Air was granted the Harare –Kariba-Victoria Falls-Kariba-Harare and the Victoria Falls –Buffallo Range-Victoria Falls routes as well as the Harare-Beira, Harare-Maputo and Harare –Tete regional routes.
The airline’s financers and advisors say the company faces collapse unless it secures lucrative domestic and regional routes.

Sol Air MD Nkosilathi Sibanda recently said  his company needs profitable routes like the Harare-Bulawayo and Harare Victoria Falls routes and the Harare – Johannesburg routes to operate sustainably, while developing unproven routes over a period of at least two years.

“I can’t make a loss for two years,” said Sibanda during the tourism all stakeholders meeting in September.

In the letter, the Sol Air managing director cites Solenta as one of two airlines that have failed to service domestic routes without the major proven routes.

“They eventually gave up after accruing massive losses. The ministry must therefore be realistic regarding this issue,” reads part of the letter.

A Zimbabwean registered low cost airline, Fresh Air, is today expected to launch its first flight from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls.

Fresh Air is a joint venture with South African budget airline 1 time.

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