Saturday, 22 July 2017

ZIMBABWE: Air Zimbabwe Cuts Half Its Staff, To Wet Lease four Boeing 777-200ERs From Malaysia Airlines

Air Zimbabwe, the national carrier of the southern African nation, has reportedly made almost half of its 400-plus staff redundant as it battles chronic financial problems.

The Zimbabwe flag carrier has been in a perilous position for years, with debts estimated at $330 million. Its fleet has shrunk to just a few aircraft. The Harare-headquartered airline has also been banned from operating to the European Union because of safety concerns, although it gave up its sole route to the continent, from the Zimbabwean capital Harare to London some time ago.

Multiple media reports have said the redundancies will be immediate.

We were overstaffed by a lot and we are also trying to weed out people without the right qualifications, Air Zimbabwe chairwoman Chipo Dyanda said.

The retrenchment is meant to give space to the airline so that we can redeploy the money saved back into the company.

The airline is believed to have arranged for the lease of four Boeing 777-200ERs from Malaysia Airlines. A photograph of one appeared in Zimbabwean publications wearing a new color scheme and Zimbabwe Airways markings, leading some commentators to suggest that the country’s government plans to close down the current carrier and set up a new one, ring-fencing the existing company’s debts.

Robert Mugabe’s son-in-law Simba Chikore was in Malaysia to finalise an aircraft leasing arrangement for the Air Zimbabwe state-owned airline reportedly saddled with RM1.4 billion in debts.

The son-in-law of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe was in Malaysia recently to close a deal with an airline company here to help salvage the crisis-riddled Air Zimbabwe (AirZim).

The Zimbabwe Independent reported on Monday that Simba Chikore had travelled with the country’s transport minister Joram Gumbo to seal the bankrupt airline’s aircraft lease agreement.

His trip here was apparently arranged at the same time that Mugabe, 93, had been in Singapore for a week, reportedly for a medical checkup.

The newspaper cited sources as saying that Chikore and Gumbo were finalising a deal which would see a Malaysian airline company (the report named it as “Malaysian Airways”) partnering with the struggling AirZim.

According to a July 14 report in the Air Transport World (ATW) online magazine, AirZim is believed to have arranged for the lease of four Boeing 777-200ERs from Malaysia Airlines.

ATW noted that AirZim had reportedly initiated a retrenchment exercise for almost half of its more than 400 staff due to financial problems, with debts estimated at US$330 million (RM1.4 billion).

Sources quoted by the Zimbabwe Independent said the deal with the Malaysian airline involved a “wet lease”.

A wet lease entails an arrangement where one airline provides an aircraft complete with crew, maintenance and insurance to another airline, with payment made based on the number of hours the leased aircraft operates.

The report said a 10-member team comprising key personnel from AirZim had also flown to Malaysia a week earlier to oversee the planning of the ferry flight, involving transfer of the leased aircraft without passengers or cargo, to Zimbabwe.

The sources were reported to have also said that the negotiations undertaken by Chikore and Gumbo had been made to the exclusion of other senior AirZim executives.

Chikore and Gumbo are already in Malaysia but, surprisingly, they did not go with the Air Zimbabwe chief executive officer Ripton Muzenda and not even the board chairperson Chipo Dyanda, the report quoted the sources as saying.

Chikore, who married Mugabe’s only daughter Bona, had been appointed chief operations officer of AirZim, which is the national airline.

The sources said he had been carrying out executive duties and day-to-day running of the state-owned company, with Muzenda being politically sidelined.

Chikore has effectively displaced Muzenda because of his proximity to the first family, one source quoted by the Zimbabwe Independent said.

He takes instruction from the family and enjoys direct access to the minister.

The first family should not be involved, but it seems they are giving him ideas and instructions because everything he does is said to be having the blessings of President Robert Mugabe’s family, the source added.

The report also said the Zimbabwean transport ministry had been engaging other potential partners to help AirZim, including Kenyan, Ethiopian, Singaporean and Turkish airline firms.

Meanwhile, on July 15, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) reported that Mugabe and his wife Grace had returned to Harare that day after a week’s visit to Singapore where he had undergone a “routine” medical checkup.

Although it did not specify if Chikore was with them on the return flight, it reported that he and Bona were with the presidential couple when Grace was taken for minor treatment at a hospital following a small road accident on the way home from the Harare International Airport.



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