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Zim Airways: The national ‘air crime’

By Benjamin Manzini

When we read of criminal syndicates of the western world, we always envision Al Capone and the Italian Mafia as the apex of organised crime.

Local media reports had linked Zimbabwe Airways and the new planes to former president Robert Mugabe's family (Photo by @HaruMutasa)
Local media reports had linked Zimbabwe Airways and the new planes to former president Robert Mugabe’s family (Photo by @HaruMutasa)

In Zimbabwe, the mafia is our inept selfish government that thrives on exorbitant unjustifiable expenses on what they term the best intentions for the nation.

Recently, the Zimbabwe Airways’ Boeing 777-200ER was removed from the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport apron due to costly parking fees in excess of 50 000 per week, and towed to the Air Zimbabwe hangar.

This measure seemed very noble to the hardworking taxpayer although I question the decision to purchase that venerable aircraft in the first place.

At the back of my mind, I still await a light bulb moment on how to uncover the larceny behind this contrived endeavour. This time around, the said aircraft has been flown all the way to the Far East for repairs.

In an earlier piece, I indicated that the aircraft must go through a systematic series of checks categorised as A, B, C and D checks.

For this aircraft which has been flown to Malaysia, from where it was acquired, for a mere A check, something engineers at South African Airways (SAA) Technical could take care of in a minimal 10 hours overnight in their huge 85 000 square-metre hangar space.

A check is a maintenance check conducted by an airline every 400-600 flight hours or 200-300 cycles of take off and landing and can be completed in a day or two at an airport hangar.

It needs about 50-70 manhours with a minimum if 10 hours or overnight in a hangar.

Now, if government, who now own this aircraft under the Zimbabwe Aviation Leasing Company (ZALC), was smart enough to be economical and implement austerity measures to benefit the government and its people, our Finance minister should have read the riot act to the Transport ministry.

I have never studied economics but as a mere aviator, I comprehend the basics of how an airline is run due to exposure to working for larger, more financially sound global air carriers.

A major US airline that flies the newer Boeing 777-200 LR (long range) to Johannesburg on their daily service would have its aircraft serviced in the South African commercial capital in the case of technical faults.

It defies logic why Zimbabwe Airways would have to hire an entire crew to fly to Malaysia a good nine-hour plus flight for a mere A check for an aircraft that flew one way to Harare from Kuala Lumpur and was parked at the apron?

Getting one of our regional neighbours who operates the same aircraft or have engineers who are trained and rated on the 777 to perform this mere equivalent of an oil change may have been the cheaper option if austerity was prioritised, but this check was not necessary for this aircraft as it has not flown a day since its arrival.

Zim Airways will never be a profitable entity. For instance, I have flown Air Zimbabwe (Air Zim) to Johannesburg and we fail to fill that 767 but when I fly SAA or BA on the smaller 737 they are full to capacity for they utilise smaller more fuel-efficient aircrafts.

If our government was serious about making this work, they would abandon this project and focus on privatising Air Zim and bringing in more competent players with the knowledge of how an airline is run to take over.

The current scenario appears to be another thieving scheme that will use this white elephant that will only be able to fly commercially when pigs grow wings.DailyNews