Troubles Air Zimbabwe is in a crisis after the airline recently flew more passengers than its seating capacity on one of its planes.
The decision to fly more passengers than the maximum capacity of 105 on the Boeing 737 has claimed the scalp of two employees who are currently on suspension.
The 737 has 12 seats in business and 93 in the economy class. The Standard heard last week that a captain and a senior flight attendant had their licences suspended by the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (Caaz) pending investigations.
Caaz licences captains and attendants and one can hold the licence as long as he or she is compliant with the requirements of that licence, competent and in good health.
Innocent Mavhunga, the airline's acting group CEO said on Thursday: "I will not comment on that. We don't deal with internal issues in the (news) papers."
When further probed on Friday, Mavhunga said he was on leave and referred all questions to the airline's spokesperson Shingai Taruvinga.
In written responses, Taru-vinga told The Standard: "We have received your questions and unfortunately the questions you have asked are of internal nature, under sub judice and thus we cannot comment on the allegations stated."
Caaz CEO, David Chawota only said: "The matter is under investigation." Insiders said last week Caaz would only take action after getting a report from the airline from its own investigations.
Air Zimbabwe compromised the safety of passengers
Air Zim's efforts to reduce the number of passengers to the normal levels failed with only a handful of passengers voluntarily stepping down. To accommodate the extra passengers, the crew allowed schoolchildren to double up in one seat.
However, each passenger seat is equipped with one seat belt and putting more than one passenger in one seat goes against the aviation safety regulations since the passengers would be forced to share one seat belt.
Sources told The Standard that due to the doubling up, a row of seats which normally takes three passengers had more than four passengers on the day in question.
This situation is potentially dangerous in that a row of seats is serviced by a maximum of four oxygen masks required to save lives in the event of cabin pressure loss.
The masks are for the three passengers in that row and one more, in case there is a mother with an infant on her lap.
The suspended captain is not new to controversy. In 2007, he was demoted by Air Zimbabwe after flying into a thunderstorm despite having functional weather radar in Zambia, causing extensive damage to the Boeing 737 aircraft.
Sources told The Standard that this incident was a tip of the iceberg. Systems have completely collapsed. Experienced workers including technicians and pilots have either left or were intending to do so, while morale of those still at the airline has hit rock bottom.
The airline is no longer able to meet basic safety standards as underscored by this incident and its failure to undergo the IATA Operational Safety Audit.
"Much as we would like to continue flying the national flag, the reality is we may be flying a potential national disaster," said one engineer still with the airline.
The troubled airline has been breaking aviation records for the wrong reasons. In September last year, Air Zim flew one passenger from Victoria Falls while it flew one passenger from Dubai in 2006.