TROUBLED flag carrier Air Zimbabwe (AirZim)’s only aircraft, a Boeing 767-200 long-haul jet, impounded by the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) last week at OR Tambo International Airport, was only released after the aviation company accepted a payment plan for the R1,4 million (US$93 593) debt, the Zimbabwe Independent can report.
This comes amid an unexpected visit to the AirZim offices in Harare by officials from the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC) who demanded details leading to the embarrassing event which attracted media attention in South Africa.
Aviation sources said the OPC grilled AirZim officials over the incident. The country’s only aircraft was blocked from using OR Tambo International Airport due to a debt arising from parking, landing and passenger services for flights into Johannesburg.
“The Office of the President grilled the officials here for two-and-a-half hours over the embarrassing event. They also sought to understand why the airline had not paid parking fees. Although it rattled the administrator, it works well for us because we will get the help we need,” an AirZim manager said.
The R1,4 million (US$93 593) owed to Acsa was accumulated over two months, according to company sources.The aircraft was released after Zimbabwe’s payment plan was accepted Both domestic and regional routes were affected by last week’s ordeal, with affected passengers having to be rescued by other airlines.
“When you have made commitments to a passenger and fail due to other circumstances there are costs that come with that. The (national) netball team was also due to fly with us from South Africa but we failed hence we had to accommodate them,” an official said.
AirZim continues to struggle to provide reliable service.AirZim corporate communications officer Firstme Vitori told the Independent that the airline would soon relaunch the smaller currently grounded Boeing 737.
The Boeing 737, which is better suited for domestic and regional routes than the 767, has been grounded since January after it developed a technical fault.
“We are working on our Boeing 737 to get it back to the skies. It is currently undergoing a D-check, which is a more detailed maintenance service. After we are done, it will go through the necessary air tests. This is our plan getting into the peak season,” Vitori said.
“Before the 737 was grounded, we would go to Bulawayo twice a day for our daily trippers. Getting the 737 back will bring back that convenience.”
AirZim was last year placed under reconstruction as it was struggling to clear a US$381 million debt overhang, largely attributed to mismanagement, political meddling and corruption.
The government has also failed to regularise AirZim’s debt assumption plan which continues to weaken the airline’s chances of courting new investors. Of the US$381 million debt, US$30 million is owed to foreign creditors, while US$292 million is government-to-government debt.
The debt reconstruction, operationalised through Grant Thornton, is meant to protect AirZim from litigious creditors which include former employees, other airlines and service providers.