Under-fire Caaz boss in storm over AirZim

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CIVIL Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (Caaz) chief executive officer and general manager David Chawota — who is facing serious allegations of corruption — is locked in a bitter conflict with Air Zimbabwe and government after he reported the bankrupt national airline to the International Air Transport Association (Iata) over its failure to pay US$20 million in passenger service charges (PSC) and Aviation Infrastructure Development Fund (Aidef) fees to his organisation.

Hazel Ndebele

Iata is a trade association of the world’s airlines. It supports airline activity and helps formulate industry policy and standards.

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Documents seen by the Zimbabwe Independent indicate AirZim officials are peeved that Caaz demonstrated to Iata that the national flag carrier does not have the financial capacity to support safe operations and has been failing to remit money owed to the authority.

There are also concerns after Chawota’s actions — described as “reprehensible” by one senior government official — AirZim risks being suspended from flying for failing to support safe operations.

Sources said government is seriously concerned that the country’s reputation is being dragged through the mud in the quarrel between Caaz and AirZim. With permission from Iata, Caaz has moved to collect the charges directly from passengers, but AirZim officials are fuming the move is an inconvenience as travellers have to spend time queuing at airports. The national airliner fears it will lose clients to its competitors as passengers avoid the inconvenient queues. Caaz started directly collecting PSC on November 10, 2014. The departure fee for domestic flights is US$15, while passengers pay US$30 for a return ticket. For international flights the fee is a flat US$50.

A letter dated September 16, 2014 addressed to the Board of Airline Representative (Bar) Winnie Muchanyuka, written by Chawota, reveals that Caaz made the move to directly collect the charges and to inform Iata came after AirZim failed to remit the money it was collecting. He said Caaz was owed in excess of US$20 million. Chawota reported AirZim to Iata without consulting government, the owner of the airline.

“The board and management has reviewed this state of affairs and resolved that notwithstanding Air Zimbabwe’s current financial distress, fiduciary amounts like Passenger Service Charge and the Aviation Infrastructure Development Fund that are collected by the airline from the passengers on behalf of Caaz should be remitted in full without fail to the authority,” Chawota’s letter reads. “Despite numerous promises over the years, this has not happened hence our decision to make arrangements to collect the PSC and Aidef directly from the Air Zimbabwe passengers.”

In the letter, Chawota sought Bar’s input, while also informing the board that Caaz had also reported AirZim to Iata over the issue.

“We have also contacted Iata regional office in South Africa who in turn have contacted the Iata head office in Geneva, Switzerland on the Caaz decision to collect PSC and Aidef direct from Air Zimbabwe passengers. We expect to get their response week beginning 22 September 2014,” Chawota wrote.

Chawota explained that direct collection from AirZim passengers enables Caaz to procure the flight information display system and rehabilitate the baggage handling system so as to improve passenger facilitation at the Harare International Airport.

On November 6, 2014 AirZim acting chief executive Edmund Makona wrote to government complaining that the move by Caaz was inconveniencing passengers.

Makona also warned Iata could take action on AirZim as it may question the airline’s safety standards.
“The new collection procedure at the airports means that AirZim passengers have to queue at the airports to buy the coupons. This collection procedure in this day and age is very retrogressive and does not support business development by the airline let alone provide a level playing field,” wrote Makona. “AirZim stands to lose a lot business from this action.”

Makona further complained that Chawota involved Iata although he had written to him advising him of the consequences for the national airline.

“You will recall Sir that I wrote to the general manager of Caaz highlighting the consequences of getting Iata involved in this issue given the requirement of Iata Operational Safety Audit (Iosa). We do not know what the reaction is going to be as the action by Caaz demonstrates to them that AirZim does not have the financial capacity to support safe operations. This move has the potential of handing over AirZim clients to competition and will derail current turnaround efforts,” Makona wrote.

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