Mashudu Netsianda, Business Reporter
PLANS are underway to merge Air Zimbabwe with Zimbabwe Airways under a new strategy aimed at revitalising the debt-ridden national airliner, Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister, Engineer Joel Biggie Matiza, said yesterday.
He told Business Chronicle in an interview that the proposed merger of the two airline companies was in line with Government’s thrust to turnaround the national carrier, which is burdened by legacy debts of over $334 million.
“We are working on putting them (Air Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Airways) together so that we have an efficient national airline company. In fact, it is a process as we all want is to see our national flag carrier flying again,” said Eng Matiza.
“We are proud of Air Zimbabwe hence we want to see it in the skies. We are in the Second Republic and we are now putting up things properly.”
He said the ministry was finalising the purchase agreement of four Boeing 777 aircraft procured recently by Zimbabwe Airways. Government took delivery of one of the planes, a Boeing 777 jetliner, in April, and the remaining three are still to be paid for.
Eng Matiza said Government was also working towards securing smaller Embraer aircraft for the servicing of domestic routes.
“Air Zimbabwe does not have an adequate aircraft fleet mix and this has forced the airline to operate on a deficit.
“However, we are saying with the new aircraft in place, Government intends to merge Air Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Airways so that they complement each another,” he explained.
“The smaller aircraft will service domestic routes, A320s for regional routes and the B777 will service the international routes”.
Minister Matiza also said Government was considering an option of engaging a strategic partner with efforts underway to recapitalise the airline through a model to be discussed with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.
“We are trying to come up with a business model to be discussed with RBZ, which allows us as much as possible to start having revenue coming in and we are also looking for a strategic partner.
“We have the equipment and what needs to be done in the aviation industry is to see that equipment flying up there so that we generate revenue,” he said.
Eng Matiza acknowledged challenges facing the Air Zimbabwe, which include legacy debt, dilapidated aircraft and equipment fleet and lack of working capital. Government created Zimbabwe Airways as a new debt-free national airline, in a bid to duck creditors who were circling Air Zimbabwe’s properties including planes.
The decision followed the seizure of Air Zimbabwe’s Boeing 767-200 inscribed “Victoria Falls” at Gatwick International Airport in 2011. The aircraft was impounded by American General Supplies over a $1,2 million debt for spares.
But due to a significantly improved political environment following the coming in of the new administration led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the threat of having planes impounded has subsided because of the re-engagement process that has gathered pace. — @mashnets