By Africa Moyo
Government says one of the four long haul planes acquired from Malaysia, the Boeing 777-200ER, has no mechanical problems and was only taken back to Kuala Lumpur for routine maintenance, which is a prerequisite even if it is not flying.
Aeroplanes have a strict regime of maintenance, unlike vehicles, and since such checks could not be done locally or on the continent — because the aircraft does not have an operating licence to be flown to Kenya or South Africa — it was resolved that it should be taken back to Malaysia using the ferry licence gotten when it was first delivered to Harare.
Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Dr Joram Gumbo told The Herald Business last week that contrary to media reports that the aircraft had developed technical problems, it had been flown back for routine maintenance.
“No plane ever had challenges. What happened is that when that aircraft came, we only got a ferry licence to bring it here with the hope that we were going to get more money from (RBZ Governor Dr John) Mangudya to pay for our licence fees. He could not pay our licence fees,” said Dr Gumbo.
“When an aircraft is not flying, even if it has a new part, it has to be continuously maintained. But because we can’t fly it to South Africa or Kenya where it can be maintained, and because we can’t do it here, we then took it back where it can be maintained.
“So it is just there for maintenance because we have not obtained an operator’s licence.”
The Boeing 777-200ER, and three others, were purchased with a view to resume intercontinental flights.
The planes were expected to be operated by the Zimbabwe Aviation and Leasing Company (ZALC).
In turn, ZALC would run the planes under the name Zimbabwe Airways, a new debt-free national airline, which was registered in 2009
Government set up Zimbabwe Airways to avoid more aircrafts from being impounded by debtors as had happened in London in 2011 at Gatwick International Airport.
In 2011, Air Zimbabwe’s Boeing 767-200 inscribed “Victoria Falls”, was impounded by American General Supplies on landing at Gatwick International Airport over a $1,2 million debt for spares.
However, due to a significantly changed political environment following the coming in of the new administration led by President Mnangagwa, the threat of having planes impounded has subsided because of the re-engagement process that has already begun.
Dr Gumbo believes it is now time Air Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Airways came under one board, but operationally, the former will focus on regional routes while the latter went intercontinental.
Since Air Zimbabwe reportedly operates only two planes, Government is considering increasing its fleet so that it can optimally play the role of bringing passengers to Harare from the region so that they are flown to European, Asian and American destinations by Zimbabwe Airways.
“Zim Airways was created because of the previous situation, but now because of the new dispensation, we must normalise it. Now that we have re-engaged and we are re-engaging everybody, there is now no need for ZALC because the owner of the company we call Zim Airways is Government. To operationalise the whole thing, we have now said Air Zimbabwe and Zim Airways must operate under one board and we do away with ZALC.
“On their day to day operations, Air Zimbabwe — due to the kind of equipment it has and looks as though it operates regionally — must now concentrate on regional operations and we must then also provide more equipment for Air Zimbabwe to allow it to mop up passengers from Johannesburg, from Gaborone, from Lusaka, from Kinshasa, DRC, from Malawi, Maputo, from Windhoek, among others, as we used to do in the past.”
Zimbabwe Airways requires $137 000 to get an operational licence. There are plans to get one when the balance of about $25 million has been made.