In 1996, I spent a glorious ten days in Zimbabwe. Many say that was the last good year for the country. Since then sanctions, corruption, seizure of farms, mines and businesses have made Zimbabwe a no go zone for tourism and business. These same conditions have reduced Air Zimbabwe passenger numbers from 1 million in 1999 to 23,000 in 2005 due to suspension of many of its flights and suspension from the international financial and booking system by IATA over unpaid fees.
The airline kept flying from 2005 to 2011 and even launched a new service from Harare to Kuala Lumpur. Last year, however, was a horror year for the carrier with something going wrong almost every month:
- Feb 2011: South African fights suspended over unpaid landing fees
- May 2011: suspended by IATA over unpaid fees
- May 2011: domestic fights suspended by Civil Aviation Authority Zimbabwe CAAZ over safety concerns – with some resuming in July
- Mid-June 2011: Flights to London and South Africa suspended because of a debts to fuel suppliers.
- August - September 2011: Pilots go on strike for 50 days over unpaid wages
- Nov 2011: flights suspended over unpaid fuel bills
- Nov 2011: Airline debt reaches $US140million
- Dec 2011: one of the struggling airline’s 767s is seized at Gatwick airport on behalf of American General Supplies over a $1.5 million outstanding debt. The debt is paid with passengers stranded for a week
2012 was not much better:
- Jan 2012: Air Zimbabwe’s last remaining plane was grounded
- Jan 2012: the airline suspended all services to London and South Africa fearing any planes may be seized
- Jan 2012: the airline comes under Judicial management
- Feb 2012: Pilots refuse to resume domestic services because of unpaid salaries and allowance
- 24 Feb 2012: Air Zimbabwe was grounded until March
- 1 Mar 2012: The airline is grounded indefinitely
Will Air Zimbabwe fly again?
The airline had $140 to $150 million owing. Their average plane was 24 years old. Air Zimbabwe’s reputation was so bad that at the end, not even government officials were using the carrier. Very strong competition has arrived in the form of Emirates flying five times a week to Dubai. Air Namibia will add services in April so there is not a huge incentive to fly Air Zimbabwe.
Yet, the Government in March formed a new State-owned company, Air Zimbabwe Pvt Ltd, dissolving Air Zimbabwe Holdings in the process. This meant that the debt of the “old” Air Zimbabwe has been transferred to the Zimbabwe government meaning creditors of Air Zim will need to talk to the national government. An interim board to oversee the operations of the new company was immediately set up. Then Transport Minister Nicholas Goche announced that they had leased an A320 for use on regional routes. There is a rumour that this, 320 that was flown in secretly into Zimbabwe in January. There was a suggestion that the two 767s will be leased out to raise cash. Pilots and flight attendants recently attended refresher courses at the airline’s headquarters at Harare Airport in preparation for flying soon.
So Air Zimbabwe may be dead yet ready to be resurrected?
Stranded Passengers in London