PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe last week splurged more than US$1 million when he chartered an ultra-luxurious Boeing 767-200 Extended Range aircraft to Singapore and Ghana at a time government is struggling to raise salaries for its civil servants as well as rescue flood victims, the Zimbabwe Independent can exclusively reveal.
Elias Mambo/Bernard Mpofu
Investigations revealed that Mugabe chartered the 767 Boeing Business Jet (BBJ), registration P4-CLA, flight number CXB767, from March 1 until March 6 and paid more than US$1 million. The aircraft is operated by Bahrain offices of the Swiss-based VIP charter service firm Comlux Aviation.
This comes amid reports that Mugabe’s globetrotting has seen him splurge US$36 million on foreign and domestic travel in the first 10 months of 2016, piling pressure on a cash-strapped government that is failing to buy painkillers for public hospitals.
Sources say the plane was chartered because the Air Zimbabwe (AirZim) plane he usually uses is grounded and needs comprehensive servicing before it can undertake long-haul flights.
Mugabe’s failure to use his usual AirZim aircraft has put his son-in-law Simba Chikore — who runs the national airline as chief operating officer — under the spotlight. AirZim, which at Independence in 1980 had 18 aircraft in its fleet, now operates only four planes: one Airbus A320, one Boeing 767, one 737 and a ramshackle Chinese-built MA60.
“Air Zimbabwe could not service Mugabe’s plane on time because the suppliers have not yet been paid,” a source said, adding: “The airline has no long-haul flights which Mugabe could have used.”
Transport minister Joram Gumbo told the Independent yesterday that his ministry had to hire the plane because the AirZim one was grounded.
“We were forced to hire from Bahrain because the one which is normally used by the President is still being serviced. As we are speaking the parts have just arrived and it will be up and running, but the president had to travel,” Gumbo said.
“We tried to look within the region; South Africa had its own problems as well as Angola. The president charters even from Air Zimbabwe. He is our number one customer so there is nothing unusual in that.”
Gumbo said the cost of hiring the Bahraini plane was not markedly different except that the aircraft came from a bit far, so naturally it was bound to be expensive.
Mugabe, 93, dashed to Singapore on March 1 where he routinely undergoes medical check-ups as frailty and deteriorating health associated with old age take their toll on the veteran leader. He often checks into the expensive Gleneagles Hospital in the Southeast Asian city-state at a time millions of Zimbabweans are receiving a raw deal from grossly underfunded public hospitals .
During his Ghana visit, Mugabe was seen trudging slowly towards the high table with signs of his advanced age becoming more apparent.
According to the Comlux website, the: “Boeing 767 BBJ is a product dedicated to heads of state, royal families and business leaders. It is a long-range wide-body aircraft, allowing the transport of 63 passengers over 14 hours of flight non-stop.
“Fitted with a head of state VVIP cabin fully refurbished end of 2013, the aircraft has always been maintained at the highest standards of the industry. The efﬁcient cabin of the 767 BBJ allows the principal and his executives to travel in extreme comfort and privacy at the front, while a spacious section at the back is fully dedicated to his delegation and entourage,” the website says.
“In addition, Comlux offers a comprehensive set of services to VIP customers who wish to have their own aircraft managed personally and professionally. This includes aircraft management, sales and acquisitions, cabin design and completion and maintenance and engineering services.”
The plane, whose serial number and engine number are 32954 LN:861 and GE CF6-80C2B6F respectively, cruises at 860 kilometres per hour and has state-of-the-art facilities which include: “Private bedroom, bathroom, office and dining area for the entourage.”
“Seating capacity includes 10 VVIP, 20 business and 33 premium economy to give total capacity of 63 passengers. The plane also has state-of-the-art equipment onboard which includes humidifier, playstation, blue-ray and GSM/free wi-fi broadband.”
Investigations by the Independent showed that the hiring fee includes all flight charges and VIP first-class catering. However, special requests such as caviar, rare wines or spirits are invoiced additionally at cost.
Satellite phone charges, wi-fi charges, any additional war risk insurance premiums, de-icing of the aircraft, limousine cost and car escort to the aircraft are not included and are charged additionally at cost.
Aviation experts say the cost of operating a commercial aircraft can be broken down into two main categories: airborne cost and ground cost. The airborne costs are the actual costs of flying the aircraft; the ground costs are the cost of the airframe, engine maintenance, as well as airport and hangar expenses. Both are typically measured hourly and are broken down per mile.
“With limited data on the dual engine wide bodies, it appears that the Boeing 767 costs around US$9 138 per hour to operate,” said an aviation expert.
In the first six months of 2016, Mugabe clocked 200 000 kilometres in the air. He travelled to Singapore more than 10 times in 2016.
He also went to Kenya on August 26 to attend the Tokyo International Conference on African Development. Upon his return, Mugabe spent just a night before flying out to Swaziland on August 29. He returned at 7:44pm the following day and was in Zimbabwe for only five hours before flying out to Dubai where he has a luxury home.
He returned on September 3 and was in the country for nine days before jetting out again on September 12 to Zambia for President Edgar Lungu’s inauguration.
Mugabe spent a night in Harare before leaving around midnight on September 15 for the moribund Non-Aligned Movement talk shop in Venezuela.
Soon after that, he attended the United Nations General Assembly in the United States where he pleaded with the West for the relaxation of sanctions. Mugabe attended Lesotho’s 50th independence anniversary.
This year alone, Mugabe has already been to Singapore, Ethiopia, New York and Ghana.