Many queries as new Zim airline gets set to take to skies

By Peta Thornycraft Time of article published Jun 28, 2017

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EXTRAORDINARILY, and, some might say, imaginatively, Zimbabwe has created a new airline, called Zimbabwe Airways. This new company has apparently bought a massive 300-seater Boeing 777-200ER from Malaysian Airways.

There are even photos of the new aircraft, probably taken in Malaysia, with new signage that reflects Zimbabwe’s national colours and its famous bird on the plane’s tail.

There is not yet any information about how any Zimbabwean airline company would fill such an enormous aircraft on its small regional routes, most of which are no longer in use or have huge competition from other companies, such as SAA.

The chief operating officer of Air Zimbabwe, Simba Chikore, who is President Robert Mugabe’s son-in-law, sounded pleasant and polite when he answered his phone from a number that seems to originate in Dubai. He couldn't comment on the new plane. “I am not the government of Zimbabwe.”

But he did say that Zimbabwe was trying to do its “best to get new equipment for the airline”.

He said the public would know when that happened. Chikore was, before his marriage, a first officer with Qatar Airways.

Air Zimbabwe was recently barred from flying to, or over, Europe for safety reasons attached to its only two long-haul, ageing Boeing 767 aircraft, which apparently need maintenance and which usually fly Mugabe, his wife and many senior public servants on their frequent trips around the world.

Air Zim only has two more small aircraft in the air at present, which fly against competition to and from Joburg and within Zimbabwe.

Air Zimbabwe’s most profitable route used to be to Gatwick Airport near London, as hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans moved to the UK after the political violence and economic collapse when the new political party, the Movement for Democratic Change, nearly beat Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party in the elections in 2000.

One of Air Zimbabwe’s 767s was impounded for weeks at Gatwick in 2012 after creditors seized it to force Air Zimbabwe to settle its bills for spare parts from the US supplier.

Since then, Air Zimbabwe has cancelled its profitable route to “Harare North”, as London is known to many Zimbabweans.

Beloved Mupfururirwa, the local inspector for Central African Airways Aviation, which would need to be involved in the registration of any new commercial aircraft, would not talk to Independent Newspapers.

He said Air Zimbabwe’s information desk would deal with any questions. However, Air Zim didn’t answer its phone.

According to information whirling around social media this week, Zimbabwe Airlines’ 12-year-old Boeing 777-200ER was leased from Malaysia Airlines. Air Zimbabwe has enormous debts to suppliers and its workforce.

Some suggest the name change to Zimbabwe Airways, and some creative accounting in terms of the lease name and ownership details, would put at least some cosmetic distance between it and Air Zimbabwe.

This might allow this new airline to operate without financial difficulties. But whether the European Aviation Safety Agency (Easa) would welcome Zimbabwe back due to the lack of clarity of the ownership of the aircraft is not clear. It is not clear whether Zimbabwe could fill a Boeing 777-200, even to Gatwick Airport, if Easa let any Zimbabwean airline fly over its territory again.

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