AirZim seeks US$6m for planes

Air Zimbabwe (AirZim) requires US$6 million to purchase two Embraer aircraft for its domestic and regional routes, businessdigest can report.

By Nyasha Chingono

As previously reported by the Zimbabwe Independent, AirZim is working on getting two Embraers through the dodgy US$70 million Zimbabwe Airways procurement deal. Treasury Bills will be issued to fund the US$6 million aircraft purchase.

The troubled national airliner, which is using twin Boeing 767s for the local and regional routes, says it is not economical to continue using bigger aircraft for domestic and regional flights as they consume more fuel.

AirZim confirmed this week that the two Embraers had already been identified, but would not divulge where they will buy them.

AirZim’s turnaround strategy hinges on reviving its operations following years of underperformance amid mismanagement and corruption and entails buying six smaller aircraft to boost the fleet and increase the airline’s presence on the regional market.

“We needed two small Embraers in the short term. These small aircraft will service the local and the regional routes. We need to strengthen the local business. We have two 767s for the long haul but we are using them locally and regionally which is not appropriate,” said AirZim board chairperson Chipo Dyanda.

The board, Dyanda said, had already approached government with the proposal and was hopeful that government would purchase the Embraers in the short term.

“The shareholder is seized with the matter. We know that the cake is small, but if we could be equipped with those aircraft, we will be able to refurbish our 767s and modernise them,” Dyanda said.

“We were modest enough in understanding the needs of the country. We have requested for US$6 million to buy the two Embraers. So if the shareholder gives us the two aircraft, we believe we can fund other operations.”

The struggling airline has often found the going tough on the domestic market in case of breakdowns inconveniencing hundreds of passengers. Dyanda said the Boeing 767, which is currently servicing local routes like Harare-Bulawayo and Bulawayo-Victoria Falls, was an unwelcome expense on the struggling airline.

She added that an improved regional and international presence would generate the much-needed foreign currency.

“If we get smaller aircraft for the domestic and regional markets, at least we would be able to get a bit of foreign currency. They should give us the right-sized planes and capital,” Dyanda said.

Transport minister Joram Gumbo said government was seized with the matter, but would not reveal specific timelines for the purchase of the aircraft.

“They are always writing us letters and I’m seized with the matter. The President (Emmerson Mnangagwa) went to Qatar to negotiate for a few planes for purchase or lease so we should be getting some planes soon,” Gumbo told businessdigest.

Gumbo in his 100-day work plan had initially indicated that government would purchase two second-hand Embraer ERJ145 planes at US$6 million in order to boost its fleet, but the planes are yet to be delivered. The ministry had intended to lease two ERJ145 planes to increase the airline’s frequency, but since the 100-day plan period, Gumbo has been tight-lipped over the issue.

AirZim is aiming to renew its International Air Transport Association (Iata) membership once government’s debt assumption process is completed.

AirZim’s passenger numbers have continued to tumble over the past decade to about 230 000 per annum from a peak of one million in 1996.