Beleaguered national airline, Air Zimbabwe (AirZim), which is scheming a resurgence after its fleet was grounded for over a year due to aviation concerns, has opened talks with an unidentified party for delivery of an Airbus 380 (A380), The Financial Gazette’s Companies & Markets (C&M) established this week.
The new airline would enable AirZim to restart its Harare-London flights, which it abandoned after creditors threatened to attach its planes due to overdue debts.
AirZim spokesperson, Shingai Taruvinga, said a deal for a new A380 was underway, but could not disclose the identity of the owner of the airbus the airline intended to acquire. But C&M understands that the owner is based in France.
Taruvinga indicated the deal would be concluded next month, allowing AirZim to get a modern long range aircraft that would match competition from regional airlines flying into London.
Discussions for the new airbus come hard on the heels of the successful re-launch of the Harare-Johannesburg route following the lease of a 150 passenger A320 plane as part of new measures to turnaround the airline’s faltering fortunes.
AirZim has not revealed from whom it is leasing this plane, but industry players speculate that this is also from a France-based airline.
“Airbus is the way most airlines are going,” Taruvinga told reporters at OR Tambo International Airport soon after the A320’s maiden flight to South Africa on Monday last week.
“For us, it is about giving a better service because these are modern aircraft. This is the way to go. We are hoping that the A380 arrives before we start our international flights in July. Even if the (Boeing) 767 starts flying there, we are hoping that the A380 will replace it,” Taruvinga said.
The A380 is one of the world’s largest commercial aircraft, with capacity to fly 525 passengers in its comfortable three-class configuration.
The Zimbabwean flag carrier has also leased a Embraer ERJ-145 50-seater plane which has already started flying the Harare-Victoria Falls route. Impeccable sources said a second Embraer plane was on the way.
“Both (Embraer) deals are lease to buy arrangements,” a source said.
But it is the arrival of the Airbus A380 at AirZim that is expected to immediately reshape the airline’s battered image and thrust it into a stronger position to take on at least 12 other firms with flights into Zimbabwe.
These include Royal Dutch Airlines, Emirates, Egypt Air, South African Airways, British Airways, ComAir, Kenya and Ethiopian airlines.
But analysts warn that viability will depend on a number of issues, chief among them an autonomous management without influence from government bureaucrats and politicians.
The A380 has been winning business and leisure passengers alike since its introduction in 2007, providing levels of comfort and reliability that have forced global travellers to specifically request flights on Airbus’ 21st century flagship.
A380s burn 20 percent less fuel per seat than its nearest competitor, according to aviation industry analysis.
Lower fuel consumption translates into lower carbon dioxide emissions. It has one of the quietest engines with 12 business class seats and 138 economy class-passenger configurations, but is yet to be fitted with modern in-flight facilities like televisions.
It appears AirZim, which has been undergoing a painful restructuring exercise, which include sending 600 of its 1 025 workforce on forced leave, wants to recapture a large Zimbabwean population in the Diaspora.
But perhaps the most important challenge is to convince, especially government to book its travelling staff on AirZim and discourage abuse of the airline by politicians.
Meanwhile, C&M understands that AirZim had scaled down the number of candidates competing for the CEO’s position to three from the original five. The three have been undergoing security checks in the past two weeks, sources said. The Financial Gazette