By Andrew Kunambura
Struggling national flag carrier, Air Zimbabwe (AirZim) is locked in a bitter wrangle with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAAZ) over a three-year arrangement involving air ticket charges and passenger service fees, it has emerged.
The two parastatals had buried the hatchet when CAAZ climbed down from the forced arrangement whereby AirZim passengers were paying the fees directly to the authority before departure as opposed to the normal procedure whereby they are composited on the air tickets.
Passengers have been paying passenger service fees of $15 for local departures and $50 for international departures.
CAAZ had said in a statement the move was taken to ensure the smooth flow of passengers and facilitate the ease of doing business.
However, when the date of commencement arrived, many passengers were shocked when they were being asked to pay the fees separately to CAAZ.
Following the incident, CAAZ later issued a small notice informing passengers that it has not been possible to effect the change because AirZim “had misrepresented some facts to the International Air Travel Association (IATA)” and therefore the deal between the two companies had been suspended until further notice.
But AirZim management strongly hit back, telling the Daily News that it was in fact CAAZ which had bungled by prematurely announcing the deal.
“CAAZ prematurely announced the commencement date before they had ensured IATA gives codes to Air Zimbabwe.
“Now they are trying to say AirZim is not ready yet it’s CAAZ which has not reinstated the codes they had blocked,” said AirZim corporate affairs and communications manager, Tafadzwa Mazonde.
“AirZim does not have and did not make any communication with IATA on this issue. It is therefore false to say we made a misrepresentation.
“The only communication between AirZim and IATA on this issue was when AirZim made a follow up as to why IATA had not yet provided the codes ahead of February 1.
“It then only turned out that the letter by CAAZ was not delivered to IATA and this is the only reason why things have not moved,” said Mazonde.
CAAZ public relations and communications manager Annajulia Hungwe refuted Mazonde’s claims saying once they penned the letter, what happened subsequently was none of their business.
“CAAZ wrote in notification to IATA in support of Air Zimbabwe’s application where it was requesting IATA to reinstate the codes for passenger service charge and airport infrastructure development fund on their tickets.
“Thereafter, it was Air Zimbabwe’s prerogative to follow up with IATA and conclude all the reapplication process,” she said.
The fee in contention is ordinarily paid to CAAZ for purposes of airport maintenance. It is in-built in the ticket and every airline must then remit that tax amount to CAAZ.
However, in 2014, AirZim was not remitting, resulting in CAAZ resorting to collecting the money from passengers at the airport.
The two parties had negotiated and agreed to allow AirZim to collect that tax on the ticket as is the norm.
The move was envisaged to bring convenience to passengers as there would not be any extra costs to be paid at the airport over and above the ticket price as is currently prevailing
AirZim is currently struggling to go back to viability following years of collapse which at one point saw all its planes getting grounded.
It is saddled with a crippling debt of up to $300 million and has failed to attract partners to turn around its fortunes due to its high level of indebtedness which, according to Transport and Infrastructure Development minister Joram Gumbo, scares off potential investors.
Gumbo recently disclosed that the national airline was making a loss of $2 million every month and was relying on daily government bailouts.
AirZim has also been grappling with declining load factors with passenger numbers having plummeted to about 230 000 per annum in the past few years, from a peak of one million in 1996, as travellers opt for other airlines, even on the four domestic destinations it services. DailyNews