Harare ‑ The European Commission (EC) has banned Zimbabwe’s struggling flag airline, Air Zimbabwe, from their airspace over safety concerns.
On Tuesday, the EC said they had updated the European Union (EU) Air Safety List, the list of non-European airlines that do not meet international safety standards, which are, therefore, “subject to an operating ban or operational restrictions within the European Union”.
“All air carriers from Benin and Mozambique were removed from the EU Air Safety List, while four individual airlines, one each from Nigeria, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Ukraine, and Zimbabwe, were added,” the EC said. At Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, the national flag carrier boasted a fleet of 18 planes, but is now rundown and operating at less than a third of that capacity and reeling under a debt in excess of US$300 million.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe usually uses Air Zimbabwe for his foreign travels, which he reportedly pays for in full. The Commission said the EU Air Safety List seeks to ensure the highest level of air safety for European citizens, which is a top priority of the Aviation Strategy adopted by the Commission in December 2015.
“Following today’s update, all airlines certified in Benin and Mozambique are cleared from the list, following further improvements to the aviation safety situation in these countries. On the other hand, the airlines Med-View (Nigeria), Mustique Airways (St Vincent and the Grenadines), Aviation Company Urga (Ukraine) and Air Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe) were added to the list due to unaddressed safety deficiencies that were detected by the European Aviation Safety Agency during the assessment for a third country operator authorisation,” the EC said.
EC transport commissioner Violeta Bulc said: “I am glad that we are able to take all carriers from Benin and Mozambique out of the air safety list. Their reforms have paid off. This is also a signal to the 16 countries that remain on the list. It shows that work and co-operation pays off. The Commission and the European Aviation Safety Agency are ready to assist them and raise the safety standards worldwide.”
EC said following Tuesday’s update, a total of 181 airlines were banned from EU skies. Six years ago, Air Zimbabwe’s Boeing 737-500 was impounded in South Africa after failing to settle a US$500,000 debt owed to Bid Air Services for ground handling services.
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In the same year, its largest aircraft, a Boeing 767-200, was seized by American General Supplies in London over a US$1,2 million debt, but was later released after the airline paid the debt. The airline immediately stopped flying to London, one of its most lucrative routes.
The debt-ridden airline was kicked out of the International Air Transport Association’s flight reservation services in 2012 after failing to honour its obligations — which then stood at US$3,4 million — a development which resulted in limited business.
- African News Agency (ANA)