21 September 2017

Zimbabwe: Air Zim's Rebirth . . . Small Planes Delivery Set for October

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(File photo).

Air Zimbabwe is expected to take delivery of six smaller aircraft next month as Government heightens efforts to revive the struggling national flag carrier, The Herald Business has learnt.

Under the deal, Government is not buying brand new planes because of funding constraints, but would lease them. The source of the smaller aircraft -- which carry up to 50 passengers -- remains a closely guarded secret but it is understood that they would be coming from ECC Leasing. ECC Leasing, which was established in 2002 to manage and market pre-owned aircraft, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of a Brazilian firm, Embraer.

Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister Dr Jorum Gumbo, confirmed to The Herald Business this week that the smaller planes would be coming sometime next month, but declined to divulge further details.

"I want to bring them in October; so towards the end of the month (September), if we get in touch, I will tell you when I will be bringing them in. I would need more publicity for them at that point," said Dr Gumbo. At the end of July this year, Dr Gumbo told our sister paper The Sunday Mail Business that he was in advanced negotiations with a supplier of smaller aircrafts but rejected reports that he was talking to Embraer.

"The issue at hand is that the planes that I think we may lease are (like) Embraers because they are small and they carry about 50 passengers.

"I can't afford long-haul aircrafts for the region. I am in the middle of negotiations to lease planes; that is a fact. I realised that partnerships may give us headaches . . . I want to keep the national flag (on the planes), so leasing would be ideal . . .

"The negotiations are very advanced at the moment . . . I am looking for a minimum of six smaller planes to ply regional routes. "These smaller planes would feed passengers into the long-haul aircraft that would be plying long distance routes." Some of the targeted regional and international destinations are Angola, DRC, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Singapore.

The coming in of the new planes has been advocated for by many aviation experts for a long time, who argue that it was not economic to fly long-haul planes into the region, particularly when they are never full most of the time.

Air Zimbabwe is battling to restore passenger confidence following years of under-performance marred by delayed departures and cancelled flights. Government is now understood to be keen on changing the national airliner's name to Zimbabwe Airways, which would be a new debt-free Phoenix rising out of the ashes of Air Zimbabwe.

Air Zimbabwe's huge debt of about $334 million is turning off most technical partners, hence the desire to create a new company that would be attractive not only to potential partners, but also in the eyes of passengers.

Cabinet recently decided to hive off Air Zimbabwe's legacy debt; together with other key parastatals such as Ziscosteel, National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ) and the Civil Aviation of Zimbabwe (Caaz), to allow them to reinvent themselves. For Air Zimbabwe, it appears as if the revival is gathering momentum with the deal to acquire six smaller aircrafts and about four long-haul planes.

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