ZIMBABWE yesterday took delivery of a 282-seater Boeing 777-200ER aeroplane from Malaysia laying the ground for the revival of the national flag carrier — Air Zimbabwe. The plane — which touched down at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport in Harare at 12.30PM — will boost the fleet of Air Zimbabwe which has been struggling to service domestic, regional and international routes using one plane.
The arrival of the Boeing 777 will see Air Zimbabwe servicing some of the international routes it had long abandoned such as London in the United Kingdom and China. The UK market is important for Zimbabwe as it serves as a gateway into the European Union. Due to strong historical ties, thousands of Zimbabweans are resident in the UK and a resumption of direct flights between Harare and London bodes well for Zimbabwe’s re-engagement drive.
Currently, Zimbabweans in the diaspora and other visitors intending to come to Zimbabwe have to navigate costly bookings with many connections in different countries but the attainment of long-haul planes will come as a relief to travellers to the country. Another Boeing 777 plane is expected in the country within weeks from Malaysia as the Government moves to resuscitate the fortunes of Air Zimbabwe which has been battling legacy debts, a depleted and ageing fleet prone to breakdowns, low morale among its workforce and a battered image.
We hope the arrival of the plane signals the beginning of the improved fortunes for Air Zimbabwe and will go a long way in boosting tourist arrivals in the country. Zimbabwe has done tremendously well to expand and spruce up its airports such as Victoria Falls, Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo in Bulawayo and RGM International Airport in Harare.
Sadly, the massive investments have benefitted other airlines which have been making a beeline to service lucrative routes particularly those into Victoria Falls. A functional Air Zimbabwe is crucial to efforts to revive the economy.
In that regard, we are glad that Government is finalising assumption of the national airline’s US$380 million debt which has seen Air Zimbabwe struggling to court investment partners. Hiving off Air Zimbabwe’s humongous debt is seen as critical in efforts to turn around the company as it would become attractive to potential strategic partners. Of the debt, US$30 million is owed to foreign creditors while nine Government-related firms are owed $292 million.
Engagements with potential strategic partners and investors are currently underway to enhance future sustainability and competitiveness of the airline. The airline last year took delivery an Embraer ERJ 145LR which is still undergoing regulatory procedures before it begins servicing domestic and regional routes.
The two long-haul aircraft acquired from Malaysia have been earmarked for intercontinental routes since they need anything upwards of six hours in the skies for them to generate profit for the beleaguered airline.
Air Zimbabwe is also seeking to raise some capital for the acquisition of additional aircraft and working capital from the disposal of redundant aircraft equipment and spares. We believe it is possible to turn around the fortunes of the national airline and make it profitable once again. What is required is a dedicated workforce, adherence to sound corporate governance tenets, elimination of rent seeking behaviour and a work ethic that prioritises service delivery.
Air Zimbabwe’s image which is heavily dented because the airline has lost credibility with clients because of constant delays and breakdowns, can be improved with an efficient service. All hope is not lost and the delivery of the first Boeing 777 should herald the beginning of good things at Air Zimbabwe.
We commend the administration of President Mnangagwa for working tirelessly to ensure the delivery of the planes. In his remarks after receiving the aircraft, Acting President Constantino Chiwenga said the arrival of the plane demonstrated Government’s commitment to capacitating Air Zimbabwe. “Receipt of this Boeing 777 aircraft is clear testimony that we are taking concrete steps to capacitate our national airline, so that it plays a role in promoting economic growth, creating jobs and facilitating international trade and tourism,” he said.
“This initiative is therefore, part of our efforts towards the realisation of Vision 2030, as informed by our economic blueprint, the Transitional Stabilisation Programme. Government remains committed to ensuring that our beloved national airline is restored to full functionality.
“As we hand over this asset to the airline, we call upon the administrator to use it in the most effective manner possible. As Government, we remain ready to support the airline where necessary. I wish to point out my full awareness that this aircraft is best deployed on the long-haul routes. In this light, it is therefore necessary for all stakeholders involved to work together to ensure that this is possible. This asset comes at a crucial moment for the country as we aim to increase the amount of trade and business in line with our far-reaching mantra that Zimbabwe is open for business.”
VP Chiwenga described tourism as one of the low hanging fruits that could help to transform the economy.