Broke Air Zimbabwe faces collapse,fails to ferry passengers on time
So bad has the financial and operational rot ravaging Air Zimbabwe become, that the flag carrier can now barely manage to ferry its domestic and international passengers — who are increasingly enduring horrendous flight cancellations and reschedulings.
And although Air Zim’s fleet supposedly comprises 10 “active” aircraft — two Boeing 767s, three 737s, three MA60s and two Airbus A320s — well-placed sources told the Daily News at the weekend that the debt-ridden national airline now only has three of these in the air, servicing both its domestic and regional routes.
This comes as its creaky aircraft have also been banned from flying into Europe by the European Commission, for safety reasons.
The sources who spoke to the Daily News said Air Zim was, in addition, also struggling to service and to fuel its few operating planes due to viability problems that were threatening its survival.
This had triggered an outcry among passengers, who were more often than not being left stranded at local and regional airports due to the flag carrier’s long-standing budgetary and operational challenges.
“Things are very bad here. Flights are routinely being cancelled at short notice and crews are having difficult times trying to provide plausible answers to angry, stranded passengers.
“It is an understatement to say that there is total chaos at the moment. We are now often being forced to combine domestic flights, in an endeavour to try and ameliorate the situation, but this is not working.
“In some situations, we have even had flight captains coming down to do the boarding formalities, due to the chaotic operational environment and anger from irate passengers,” one of the sources told the Daily News.
Even Transport minister Joram Gumbo has painted a bleak picture of the national airline’s fortunes, which he said was relying on government bailouts for what remains of its business.
“There is nothing to expect from that front unless we get money. For now, it’s a sinking company. For example, Air Zimbabwe asks government to purchase fuel for it on a daily basis and it cannot run on its own,” Gumbo said.
Another Air Zim insider said the problems stalking the national airline were “huge and long in the making” — even resulting in the flag carrier not managing to cope on March 14 this year with the number of people who travelled to Victoria Falls from Harare for the CEO Round Table Indaba that was held at the resort town.
Although the airline had deployed one of its Boeing 767-200 to mitigate the situation then, this had also at the same time created scheduling chaos for other passengers flying to other destinations, such as those who were going to Bulawayo.
A day later, on March 15, passengers who were travelling to Bulawayo on the evening flight also had to endure seven hours at the Harare domestic terminal, as their plane had been rerouted to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
And on March 16, passengers travelling to Harare from Bulawayo were stranded for hours at Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Airport because their plane could not take off without President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his entourage.
Mnangagwa, who had attended the CEO Roundtable in Victoria Falls, had used alternative transport from the resort town to Bulawayo — to hold several meetings and tour projects in the Matabeleland North Province.
However, the president was said not to have been aware that passengers had been delayed to allow him to wind up his meetings and get on the flight.
In the end, that plane had to make two round trips as some passengers could not find space in their booked flight. Similarly, passengers who were in Harare travelling to Bulawayo on the day also had to endure many hours waiting for the same plane.
“We are all stressed because we have to juggle between combining domestic flights and servicing the Johannesburg route. Things get even more complicated when VIPs such as the president are also travelling.
“As the President’s Office pays for charters upfront, this means that we have to reschedule the routes and withdraw one of our better planes to ferry him.
Surprisingly, the airline’s marketing and planning manager, Runesu Kwaramba, is insisting that the situation at the airline is normal, and not unique to Air Zimbabwe.
“There is no serious problem, flights do delay. The other day, I was at the airport waiting for my relative and he was delayed by four hours . . . I think we are getting better,” he said.
Asks whether they would compensate passengers who would have been inconvenienced by the delays and last-minute cancellations, he was evasive.
“Compensation is not a blanket thing. It is not an automatic thing that whenever a flight is delayed everyone is called and gets compensation . . . it does not work like that. We look at case by case. We check to see the level of inconvenience caused and pay accordingly,” Kwaramba told the Daily News.
The national carrier has over the past three decades struggled to shake off claims of gross corruption and ineptitude, which has led to the dismissals of several of its boards and senior managers.
The airline is said to be losing up to $3 million a month, in addition to being saddled with a $300 million declared debt.
The extent of the rot devouring Air Zimbabwe was first exposed to the public in March last year when it was revealed that former president Robert Mugabe was resorting to hiring private jets for his many overseas travels, after it emerged that the poorly-performing national carrier had failed to service its planes.
Meanwhile, Air Zimbabwe is among 181 airlines that are banned by the European Commission, which added it to its EU Air list of non-European airlines that do not meet international safety standards.