15 December 2011

Zimbabwe: AirZim Suspends Flights to Jo'burg

AIR ZIMBABWE has suspended flights to Johannesburg amid reports that one of its creditors Bid Air Services plans to attach the national airline's planes over a US$500 000 debt. Air Zimbabwe which flies to South Africa twice daily last flew to the destination on Thursday last week.

This comes after a United States company American General Supplies attached Air Zimbabwe's Boeing 737-500 this week in London over a reported US$1 million debt.

Insiders said Air Zimbabwe's Boeing 737-500 was nearly impounded at OR Tambo International Airport in Jo'burg, by Bid Air Service officials over the debt.

Air Zimbabwe chairman Jonathan Kadzura confirmed this week that the national airliner would not be flying to South Africa until the debt has been serviced.

"At the moment we doubt if we will be flying to Johannesburg and would not want to say when we expect to fly again because it might not happen," Kadzura said. "They (Bid Air Services) are not servicing us because we have not paid them and they want their money."

Kadzura could not comment on the planned action by Bid Air Services should Air Zimbabwe land at OR Tambo International Airport.

Observers say Air Zimbabwe faces collapse if the shareholder -- government -- does not chip in and re-capitalise the loss-making national carrier. Other efforts to have government chip in to rescue Air Zimbabwe have been rejected by Finance minister Tendai Biti.

The airline, currently saddled with debts amounting to more than US$100 million, has been battling intermittent strikes by pilots since the country adopted multiple currencies in February 2009.

Last month Air Zimbabwe passengers in Harare, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur and London were left stranded after the national airliner cancelled flights following its failure to procure fuel.

Airline officials told businessdigest that the national carrier was struggling to buy fuel.

"Air Zimbabwe is failing to pay for fuel, forcing suppliers, who are owed in excess of US$1 million, not to deliver the commodity occasionally," said an official.

The airline has six operational aircraft; threeBoeing 737s, two Boeing 767s and one MA60, with analysts estimating the combined value of the planes at less than US$119 million dollars.

One of the Boeing 737s is currently under maintenance. Despite the dire financial stress, Air Zimbabwe management insist they are committed to revamping operations at the airline, one of the 10 state enterprises earmarked for either privatisation or restructuring.

"We should all be responsible at Air Zimbabwe, that is the only way we can revive the national airline," Kadzura said.

A total of 18 international airlines have left the country since the economic crisis when negative publicity about Zimbabwe started 10 years ago.

These include Lufthansa, Qantas, Austrian Airlines, Swissair, Air India, Air France and TAP Air Portugal.

African airlines that no longer fly into Harare include Egyptair, Air Mauritius, Linhas Aereas de Mocambique, Air Namibia, Royal Swazi Airlines and Air Seychelles. Air Tanzania, Ghana Airways, Air Uganda and Air Cameroon have also pulled out of the route.

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