GOVERNMENT has taken delivery of a Boeing 777 aircraft from Malaysia — part of an envisaged fleet of 10 aeroplanes to be managed under a new company tasked to boost the local aviation sector. The 300-seater plane, which arrived at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport on Wednesday, is wholly owned by Government’s special purpose vehicle, Zimbabwe Aviation Leasing Company, which, in turn, is leasing the aircraft to Zimbabwe Airways.
Zimbabwe Airways is also owned by Government and was formed to give Air Zimbabwe — choking under a $300 million debt — time to come back to its feet and recover from its debts. The second Boeing has already been paid for in Malaysia and is expected in the country soon. In essence, Government, through Zimbabwe Airways, plans to acquire three additional Boeing 777 aeroplanes to service regional and international routes, including six small planes that will be used as feeder aircraft for long-haul flights.
Government has already paid $41 million out of the $70 million that is needed for the four Boeing 777 planes. It is believed that to date, local authorities have managed to arrange funding for two Boeing 777 planes and one Embraer. The Boeing 777 is a family of long-range wide-body twin engine jet airliners developed and manufactured by Boeing Commercial. It is the world’s largest twinjet and has a typical seating capacity of 314 to 396 passengers, with a range of 9,704 to 15,844 km. Commonly referred to as the “Triple Seven”, its distinguishing features include the largest-diameter turbofan engines of any aircraft, long raked wings, six wheels on each main landing gear, fully circular fuselage cross-section, and a blade-shaped tail cone.
Developed in consultation with eight major airlines, the 777 was designed to replace older wide-body airliners and bridge the capacity difference between Boeing’s 767 and 747. As Boeing’s first fly-by-wire airliner, it has computer-mediated controls. It was also the first commercial aircraft to be designed entirely with computer-aided design.
Technically, Zimbabwe has clinched a good deal by getting four Boeing 777-200ERs for a total of $70 million because according to a price list from Boeing, the same aircraft would cost $261.5 million. Of course the planes that Zimbabwe is getting are not brand new but in excellent condition with a lifespan of 15-20 years. These will service the long haul routes such as London and China with the smaller Embraer plying the local and regional destinations.
Government must be applauded for the manner in which it dealt with the acquisition of the new aircraft and ensuring that they operate under a new company (it wholly owns) so that they are not unencumbered by the inefficiencies, debts, liabilities and risk associated with Air Zimbabwe. The national airline’s problems are well documented and it is not a secret that it has been progressively run down by poor management resulting in its fleet dwindling to about two functioning long haul planes (Boeing 737-200ER, Boeing 767-200ER), an Airbus A320-200 for regional routes and a smaller MA60 for domestic routes.
These planes often break down due to lack of spares resulting in delays and cancellations. Air Zimbabwe planes have often been barred from landing in certain countries due to their condition and its debts. Some have been impounded in foreign lands — a source of embarrassment for the nation. The decision to acquire the latest planes and lease them to a new company with no connection to Air Zimbabwe is therefore a masterstroke and will ensure that it starts on a clean slate without the baggage weighing down the national carrier.
Zimbabwe Airways as an entity will boost tourist arrivals as it will ply international routes not serviced by Air Zimbabwe such as the once lucrative London one which connects with the rest of Europe. China is the world’s second biggest economy and Zimbabwe’s all- weather friend and a direct flight to Beijing or Guangzhou will boost trade and tourist arrivals.
We also welcome Government’s clarification on the ownership of Zimbabwe Airways that it is a Government entity with no links to the former First Family. Speaking after the delivery of the first plane at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa said the new aeroplanes, contrary to speculation, belonged to Government.
“I wish to categorically state that the aeroplane that is outside there is the property and asset of the Government of Zimbabwe,” he said. “I know speculation has been rife that the aircraft belonged to the former First Family.
“That is wrong and I am here to set the record straight. (Mr) Simba Chikore (former president Mugabe’s son-in-law) has no interests in the business, directly or indirectly.”
Mr Chinamasa said Mr Chikore, who was one of the pilots who flew the plane from Malaysia, was initially roped in to offer technical support and assist in negotiating the deal.
“(Mr) Simba Chikore has no shareholding in this plane,” he said. “We only recruited him to assist us with technical support during the negotiations since he has vast experience in the aircraft industry.”