TRANSPORT minister Jorum Gumbo has shifted his focus away from the controversial Zimbabwe Airways project linked to former president Robert Mugabe’s son-in-law Simba Chikore to reviving struggling flag carrier Air Zimbabwe (AirZim), it has been established.
By Bernard Mpofu
At Independence in 1980, AirZim had 18 planes, but is now operating at less than a third of its all-time peak.
Last November, the Zimbabwe Independent reported that the project to establish a new airline, Zimbabwe Airways, whose relationship with AirZim is opaque, was moving towards finality amid revelations Gumbo and Chikore, who was then AirZim chief operating officer, were caught in a massive conflict of interest storm. The ploy to wind down AirZim through the backdoor, sources said, has not gone down well withnew government which is now demanding swift action to save the airline from collapse.
Aviation industry sources familiar with the developments told the Independent Gumbo has proposed a turnaround strategy for the AirZim in cabinet, that will be anchored on the “Zimbabwe is open for business” theme which seeks to woo investors.
Already, the company is trying to recruit a chief executive to replace Ripton Muzenda who stepped down last year.
“Interviews for the CEO and COO were done last month and this clearly shows that government still has an interest in the airline. Before this, plans were afoot to collapse the airline and introduce Zim Airways,” a source said.
Gumbo confirmed last week that his ministry has been tasked with turning around the fortunes of the airline, although he would not disclose the finer details.
“There are plans to revive Air Zimbabwe and these will be made public in due course. As for now the plan is under discussion,” Gumbo said in an interview.
Zimbabwe Airways, according to information gathered by this paper, is owned by a local firm, Zimbabwe Aviation Leasing Company (ZALC). The company was formed by a 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 Zimbabwe Airways had acquired four long-haul Boeing 777 aircraft from Malaysia Airlines.
Last 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.