HARARE - Zimbabwe officials reportedly intervened on Tuesday to off-set the grounding of flights into and out of the country after air traffic controllers at major airports reportedly downed tools, affecting some flights in Harare and Bulawayo.
Zimbabwe is battling an economic crisis that has seen inflation erode workers’ salaries, leading to various workers unions declaring incapacitation to report for duty. Some bank workers and junior doctors are among employees that have declared incapacitation and the air-controllers were reported to have also complained of poor pay on Tuesday morning.
A travel agent confirmed on Tuesday that there was a slight disturbance in the landing and taking off of morning flights although authorities had quickly moved in to stabilise the situation after instituting contingency measures.
“We just heard there were some disturbances in Harare and Bulawayo and I have been on the phone all morning handling queries from apprehensive customers asking if they should reschedule their itineraries,” said the travel agent.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) however said in a brief statement posted a few hours on Twitter a few hours after the reported disturbances to flights that: “Our airspace is open and flights are operating as normal.”
Moleen Sanyanga who was scheduled to fly to South Africa from Harare, told Business Report that her agent had assured her that any disturbance would have been sorted within two hours. Other travelers at the Robert Mugabe Airport said flights had started to land and take off in the afternoon.
“My agent says any issue of that nature would have been solved in about 1 to 2 hours. He said such a situation would be very risky and rarely happens because it disrupts the flow of flights,” she said.
Nick Mangwana, permanent secretary for the Information Ministry said airports in Zimbabwe “remains busy” although some Twitter users suggested that a flight in Bulawayo had been delayed while another flight in Victoria Falls was also disrupted.
Zimbabwean air traffic controllers appear to have been slowly expressing their displeasure to authorities through various means such as delays in starting shifts. This resulted in them compromising on safety measures on the amount of hours a controller can work.
In a letter dated 11 November 2019, the CAAZ implored for “compliance” with statutory licencing obligations.
“It has been noted that here have been violations … where some air traffic controllers would work more than the stipulated maximum number of hours or continued to work under fatigue,” says CAAZ in the letter to air traffic controllers.
There were suggestions that senior traffic control managers had to intervene on Tuesday by stepping into the control room. The air traffic controllers were reportedly demanding a salary increase pegged to the US Dollar.
Zimbabwe is a prime destination for tourists and other travelers. Regional and international airlines such as South African Airways and Emirates fly into Harare, Bulawayo and Victoria Falls.