Air Zim drowns in glut of bad news

HARARE – Flag carrier, Air Zimbabwe, plumbed to new lows on Tuesday after it was banned from flying into Europe over safety concerns.

The latest dose of bad news to hit Air Zim comes as the debt-ridden airline is barely managing to stay afloat, and to keep operating its creaky aircraft — a development which has lately forced its single biggest customer, President Robert Mugabe, to hire private jets.

At the same time, analysts told the Daily News yesterday that the European ban was likely to further complicate Mugabe’s travelling plans to international events there, which are not covered by the current travel restrictions on him.

“Today, the European Commission updated the EU Air Safety List, the list of non-European airlines that do not meet international safety standards, and are therefore subject to an operating ban or operational restrictions within the European Union.

“Following today’s update, a total of 181 airlines are banned from EU skies: 174 airlines certified in 16 States, due to a lack of safety oversight by the aviation authorities from these States.

“The airlines Med-View (Nigeria), Mustique Airways (St. Vincent and the Grenadines), Aviation Company Urga (Ukraine) and Air Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe) were added to the list due to unaddressed safety deficiencies that were detected by the European Aviation Safety Agency during the assessment for a third country operator authorisation,” the EU announced on Tuesday.

Immediately after the ban was announced, Britain followed through with a warning to its citizens, urging them not to use Air Zimbabwe.

“Air Zimbabwe has been refused permission to operate flights to the EU because the airline has been unable to demonstrate that it complies with international air safety standards.

“British government employees travelling to and within Zimbabwe have been advised to use carriers that aren’t subject to the EU operating ban,” the British Embassy said in a travel alert posted on its website.

The badly mismanaged Air Zimbabwe has been battling myriad problems over the years, including failing to service its debt.

The flag carrier is also said to be losing up to $3 million a month, and is saddled with a $300 million declared debt.

The extent of the rot devouring Air Zimbabwe was exposed in March when Mugabe was forced to hire a private jet for his overseas travels, after it emerged that the poorly-performing national carrier had failed to service its planes.

As a result, Mugabe had to lease a private jet from Bahrain, which he used to travel to Singapore and Ghana.

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 national carrier has also over the past three decades struggled to shake-off claims of corruption and ineptitude, which has led to the dismissals of several of its boards and senior managers.

Last month 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.

This was despite the global aviation industry moving to electronic ticketing, in line with latest standards approved by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), whose policy is to ensure airline safety, security and efficiency.

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