GOVERNMENT has engaged five international carriers from Kenya, Ethiopia, Singapore, Turkey and Malaysia to partner the troubled Air Zimbabwe with hopes of turning around the fortunes of the ailing and debt-ridden national airline, the Zimbabwe Independent has learnt.
By Elias Mambo
This comes after cabinet gave Transport minister Joram Gumbo the nod to seek private partnerships for the US$330 million debt-ridden national carrier Air Zimbabwe. It is also understood that the strategic partner will be exempted from the controversial indigenisation policy which compels a foreign investor to cede 51% shareholding to locals.
High-level sources this week said Zimbabwe is holding talks with the airlines as it seeks a strategic partner for the cash-strapped flag carrier.
“Talks are at an advanced stage with the five strategic partners which include Kenyan, Ethiopian, Singaporean, Turkish and Malaysian Airways, so that they enter into a public–private partnership (PPP) agreement by January 2017,” the source said.
“The minister has already engaged the stakeholders concerned with the deal with the hope that an agreement can be reached before year-end and operations commencing early January next year.”
Sources also said the ministry is seeking close to US$2 million to refurbish some of its planes before engaging a strategic partner.
“The ministry is pushing to have two of its planes grounded in South Africa to be refurbished at a cost of US$1,7 million, while another plane which was plying regional routes requires US$400 000 to do a C-Check,” the source said.
The C-Check refers to a comprehensive overhaul of an aircraft after a certain amount of time or usage. This is normally accomplished at the main maintenance base of the airline where specialised manpower, materials, tooling, and hangar facilities are available.
This is an extensive check of individual systems and components for serviceability and function. It requires a thorough visual inspection of specified areas, components and systems as well as operational or functional checks.
The national airline has continued to struggle, incurring cumulative losses and relying on Treasury for survival.
In 2011, Air Zimbabwe’s Boeing 737-500 was impounded in South Africa after failing to settle a US$500 000 debt owed to Bid Air Services for ground handling services.
Its largest aircraft, a Boeing 767-200, was seized by American General Supplies in London over a of US$1,2 million debt in the same year. The plane was later released after the airline paid the debt, but Air Zimbabwe immediately stopped flying to London, one of its most lucrative routes.
The debt-ridden airline was kicked out of the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s flight reservation services in 2012 after failing to honour its obligations — which now stood at US$3,4 million — a development which resulted in limited business.
Government has agreed to take over the debts, through the Air Zimbabwe Debt Assumption Bill, to allow the airline and its technical partner to start on a clean slate.
Gumbo confirmed that talks with strategic partners were at an advanced stage but would not divulge their names.
“It is true that talks have been held with various organisations whom we seeking partnerships with,” Gumbo said, adding: “The names of the partners will be announced at an appropriate time.”
Gumbo also said the indigenisation policy will not be applied to foreign partners.
“This was cleared and explained in detail by the president (Robert Mugabe) that Air Zimbabwe is not a resource so a partner should just bring their money to inject into the business,” he said.