You cannot help but feel both awe and despair for the once revered Zimbabwean flag carrier Air Zimbabwe. Nowadays just saying that name draws criticisms and arguments of disdain from people even before you mention the reason you are talking about it. This is an airline that has seen a very promising and widely admired future and professionalism which has crumbled to and fallen to levels one cannot even begin to imagine.
From a fleet of over 20 fully functional aircraft and a promise of massive growth, now Air Zim’s fleet comprises two Boeing 767s, three 737s, three MA60s and two Airbus A320s. However, only four of those are flying: one airbus, one Boeing 767, one 737 and an MA60. The flag carrier is said to be losing up to $3 million a month, and is saddled with a $300 million declared debt. Some time last year the beleaguered airline was a subject of bad jokes after it was involved in an embarrassing ticketing fiasco which saw it issuing handwritten boarding tickets on its international and domestic routes.
One cannot just lay the blame on Air Zimbabwe management as it has had to operate in some of the most hostile business and political fray. Rumours and some of them recently verified of massive corruption to individuals linked to the airline and government are some of the factors that have been a massive setback to the airline. Misuse and massive debts from the government leading to cancellations of flights which in turn led to huge financial burdens in terms of compensation and re-bookings.
Many revival schemes and initiatives have been tried and failed. Kenya Airways was recently approached to partner the airline in its revival but the plan never left the drawing board because of the bad state of the airline’s books.
Rumours of sabotage which were initially quashed and led to arrest by the then incumbent government have now finally been confirmed in the government dispensation. The airline was being purposely run to the ground to pave way for a new airline Zimbabwe Airways which would have utilised almost all the resources of Air Zimbabwe and using government as collateral in financing its loans.
Rumours also surfaced of FlyAfrica being linked to a certain portion of the government that were pushing it ahead of the competition. Its current CEO Matipedza Karase who has some Chinese backing currently runs the airline, as in common knowledge anything Chinese in Zimbabwe has the government behind it. If the current trend of previous rumours is anything to go by further and more concrete details of this will surely surface soon.
And to top it all up, it has been put up for sale to foreign investors if recent media reports are anything to go by of a list of companies that the Zimbabwean government has invited potential foreign investors to look at.
The previous government tried its best to protect the airline but I think that contributed to its subsequent fall as it ended up with a monopoly while offering very little service and infrastructure improvement. So whats the way forward for our beloved airline. Personally I think and appreciate competition as it encourages people to fly more creating business and improve our facilities creating business as well as our image to the international community. Will privatization help the airline, I honestly don’t know but wish it does. My only hope is that whoever takes up on this massive duty will have the travellers best interests at heart, create jobs and improve our badly damaged aviation image.