TRANSPORT and Infrastructural Development Minister Dr Joram Gumbo says the $70 million Malaysian plane deal will go a long way in improving the aviation industry and supporting efforts to open up the country to investment.
Last month, Government took delivery of the first Boeing 777 aircraft from Malaysia, which is part of an envisaged fleet of 10 aeroplanes to be managed under a new company tasked to boost the local aviation sector. The planes are owned by Government’s wholly-owned 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 time to come back to its feet and recover from its debts. The second Boeing that has already been paid for in Malaysia is also expected in the country before the end of the month, said Dr Gumbo.
Responding to questions in Parliament last Thursday, Dr Gumbo dismissed claims that Malaysian planes have a bad reputation, saying the deal was above board.
“Aeroplanes are made by Boeing and the people who allow people to buy airplanes are the ones that made them. I do not know that since I bought a Mercedes Benz, if I am involved in an accident then they should not be bought because they kill people.
“There has never been any aeroplane that has not been involved in a crash. What I read and what I remember in this country was because there were wars, one aeroplane was shot down and the other one has not been found. That same interpretation should not be applied to everything. There are several Boeing 777 that are flying the world over,” he said.
Although it had been kept under wraps before delivery of the first Boeing 777, Dr Gumbo said the Malaysian plane deal was not a botched contract.
“It is a Government project, which is not dirty. It is clean and there were reasons why it was kept under wraps.
“It was just because we wanted to avoid the issue of them being impounded because if they had been exposed as Government of Zimbabwe planes, they would have been taken by the creditors who were claiming for money,” he said.
In 2012, Air Zimbabwe was forced to suspend the Harare-London route by the London navigation agency over a $2,8 million debt it was failing to service due to operational challenges arising from a number of factors among them high operational costs, low load factors and a huge debt overhang amounting to $320 million.
Dr Gumbo also said the planes that the Government had bought from that Asian country had never been decommissioned.
“Malaysia sold its planes because it was superstitious and they had many other types of planes that they decided to dispose those ones,” he said.
The four aircraft that Zimbabwe would secure from Malaysia were bought at a total cost of $70 million and the Government has paid $41 million with the balance of $29 million expected to be cleared soon.
“Just today, I requested the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning (Patrick Chinamasa) to assist us to pay that $29 million so that we can have the other two planes, which have not been paid for.
“The other two of the four planes have already been paid for. The other is going to be delivered in the next two weeks,” said Dr Gumbo.