FORMER president Robert Mugabe’s son-in-law Simba Chikore’s plan to establish a private airline on the ashes of struggling flag carrier Air Zimbabwe is likely to suffer a stillbirth after the new government raised the red flag over the proposed transaction, it has been established.
By Bernard Mpofu/Elias Mambo
Last month, the Zimbabwe Independent reported that the project to establish a new airline, Zimbabwe Airways (pictured), whose relationship with Air Zimbabwe (AirZim) is opaque, was moving towards finality amid revelations Transport minister Joram Gumbo and Chikore, who was then AirZim chief operating officer, were to be caught in a massive conflict of interest storm.
Information gathered shows that Zimbabwe Airways is owned by a local firm, Zimbabwe Aviation Leasing Company (ZALC). The company was formed by an identified group of Zimbabwean investors, among them lawyers and businesspersons with interests in the aviation industry. Some of the ZALC shareholders are said to be based in the diaspora.
An enquiry with the Deeds Office in Harare indicated ZALC was registered under file number 3015/12. The file was, however, missing from the office, meaning the directors could not be immediately ascertained. But information obtained shows that Zim Airways had acquired four long-haul Boeing 777 aircraft from Malaysia Airlines as it prepares to fly.
Aviation sources told the Independent this week that Simba, who had left for Singapore after Mugabe resigned following the military intervention which brought his 37-year reign to a dramatic end, made an unexpected return to Zimbabwe last week. He took his Zimbabwe Airways foreign partners to AirZim offices before flying to Victoria Falls. His visit came a month after he threw in the towel as AirZim COO.
It is understood that power brokers within President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration now want the Zimbabwe Airways deal to be scrutinised with the ultimate objective of blocking it.
“The deal is now being scrutinised and once that is completed, the President will be advised to block it. Already, a process is underway to resuscitate AirZim. The airline wants to lease new equipment and increase its frequency on lucrative domestic and international routes,” an aviation source said.
According to Gumbo, the government is on the verge of acquiring 15 planes as it plans to bring back AirZim to life.
Early this year, AirZim rolled out an ambitious plan to overhaul the company that will see Treasury expunging the airline’s legacy debts, estimated at US$330 million, by way of liquidation before acquiring new planes from Asia and rebranding to Zimbabwe Airways.
After failing to court new investors due to the company’s weak balance sheet, government is now seeking partnerships with international airlines instead of engaging a strategic partner to turn around AirZim.
At Independence in 1980, the airline had 18 planes in its fleet, but today it is operating at less than a third of its all-time peak.
Late last year, government engaged five international carriers from Kenya, Ethiopia, Singapore, Turkey and Malaysia to partner the troubled AirZim with hopes of turning around the fortunes of the ailing and debt-ridden flag carrier.
In 2013, cabinet approved a proposal by the AirZim board to raise US$15 million through 180-day commercial paper.