DEBT-RIDDEN Air Zimbabwe’s new administrator Grant Thornton has been assigned the task of merging Air Zimbabwe and controversial carrier Zimbabwe Airways within the next six months.
Transport minister Joel Biggie Matiza has also tasked the administrator Reggie Saruchera with turning around the airline within that timeframe by, among other objectives, re-opening international routes and scouting for partnerships, the Zimbabwe Independent can report.
Matiza met the administrator and management last week where he emphasised that a quick turnaround of the perennial loss-maker was essential.
Officials who attended the meeting said he directed the administrator to reschedule the parastatal’s foreign debt and rationalise operations within 182 days.
“Matiza has given the administrators six months to turn around the airline. That’s how tight it is. There is pressure to open new international routes within the next six months,” said an official close to the airline.
Speaking to the Independent this week, Matiza confirmed that the new administrator Reggie Saruchera had six months to turn around the airline, a rather ambitious task, considering the challenges bedevilling the parastatal according to aviation experts.
“They have six months to turnaround our national airline. We are crafting the details as we speak,” he said.
International routes to be considered include Harare-London and Harare-Frankfurt.
“Air Zimbabwe will turn around in the shortest period,” he said, adding that the administrator will be mandated to ensure a smooth merger between AirZim and ZimAirways.
Government appointed audit firm Grant Thornton as the airline’s administrator under debt reconstruction protection which shields AirZim from litigious creditors agitating for the attachment of property.
Their appointment comes two months after the sacking of the Chipo Dyanda-led board by former Transport minister Joram Gumbo following a suspected standoff involving US$41 million diverted to controversial airline ZimAirways.
The board argued that the money was meant to recapitalise the ailing flag bearer by purchasing four Embraer planes to service the local market, but was diverted to ZimAirways.
The administrator has the herculean task of overseeing a debt-ridden airline saddled with a US$341 million obligation to local and foreign creditors. Only three of its planes are operational, with another three grounded, which has forced it to abandon international routes.
Saruchera’s appointment comes with the authority to “raise money in any way without the authority of shareholders for the purposes of the reconstruction,” according to a government gazette published a fortnight ago.
Matiza said AirZim will soon begin negotiations with its creditors for either debt rescheduling or a payment plan which he believes would ease the airline’s operations on international routes.
However, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube recently said government was hoping to sell stakes in AirZim and other state-owned companies under a package of reforms. — Staff Writer.