AMERICAN aircraft manufacturer Boeing is demanding US$2,7 million from the government in order to supply manuals for four Boeing 777 jetliners which Harare is controversially acquiring from Malaysia on behalf of Zimbabwe Airways (ZimAirways) in a US$70 million corrupt deal.
By Andrew Kunambura
Government has paid for two of the four aircraft, one of which arrived in the country in March, but returned to the Asian nation last month where it is now grounded because it does not have an operators’ licence and due to maintenance cost issues.
The delivered plane now risks being impounded over unpaid US$1 million maintenance fees. Without the manuals, ZimAirways cannot get a licence to start operations.
The initial arrangement was that two of the Rolls Royce-powered planes would cost US$16,5 million each, while the other two would be bought for US$18,5 million apiece, bringing the total to US$70 million.
However, it was later decided to buy two Boeing 777s for US$18,5 million and US$16,5 million, a total of US$35 million. It was also resolved to buy two Embraers for US$6 million using Treasury Bills. This brought the total of the revised deal to US$41 million.
The plane flew to Malaysia on May 25 after government paid US$300 000 to ZimAirways to carry Zanu PF campaign material from China and India ahead of the critical July 30 general elections.
Transport minister Joram Gumbo convinced government officials that the Boeing 777, acquired for US$18 million amid complaints of corruption, could be chartered to China and India without an air operator’s certificate (AOC).
An AOC grants approval by a national aviation authority to an aircraft operator to use its planes for commercial purposes. This requires the operator to have personnel, assets and systems in place to ensure the safety of its employees, passengers and the general public.
Gumbo then wrote to Transport secretary George Mlilo and Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe chief executive David Chawota applying for exemption from compliance with civil aviation regulations in a bid to ensure the Boeing 777 (registration Z-RGM) flies out to bring the consignment.
However, Indian civil aviation authorities told ZimAirways they would not grant the shady aircraft landing rights because Gumbo’s waiver had no jurisdiction or validity outside Zimbabwe, more so given the controversial nature of the flight.
It has now emerged that Boeing is demanding US$680 000 to produce manuals for each, but government was failing to raise the money.
The planes were part of 12 aircraft which Boeing manufactured to order in 1994 and delivered to Malaysian Airways in 1997.
The planes had been operating until February 2016 when they were retired and discarded to an aircraft scrapyard.
They were salvaged from the scrapyard for sale to Zimbabwe last year.
According to aviation sources, when a plane has been retrieved from the scrapyard, it undergoes extensive maintenance checks which are only carried out by engineers from the manufacturer and the customer is then required to have manuals since the overhaul would come with new fittings.
It is understood that Gumbo has been sweating over how to raise the money, with both Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa and Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangundya adamantly maintaining that the State coffers were empty.
Gumbo confirmed the developments this week, saying prospects that the new airline would take to the skies anytime soon were grim.
“We have been trying to raise the money. Boeing is asking for US$680 000 for each plane for them to process the manuals. Government must pay that money so that we can be able to apply for the International Civil Aviation Organisation licensing. Without those manuals, we will not be able to get the licence to operate the airline,” said Gumbo.
“We need the money as soon as possible so that we can be able to ply the routes. That is the major reason why we have not been able to start operations. We had planned that ZimAirways should operate the long hauls while Air Zimbabwe services the local routes but we are constrained by lack of funds,” he said.
Chinamasa said government was still looking at ways of raising the money.
“Last year, I gave an instruction to the RBZ to issue Treasury Bills to raise money for the planes and they raised US$41 million which we used to pay for the planes and, at the moment, we are still finding ways to raise the money for the remaining two planes and money for other issues which will enable us to operationalise the airline,” he said in a telephone interview this week.
Boeing, it is understood, has advised that extensive refurbishments should be carried out on the other plane which government has paid for. “We are doing all what needs to be done in order to get those planes ready to fly. We were advised by engineers that the other plane needed to be reconfigured to suit our requirements and that process is yet to be started,” Gumbo said.