Basket-Case Country Has A Basket-Case Airline
Consider Air Zimbabwe. No, not for
a trip -- we value our readers. Just *think* about Air Zim for a
minute. Some flag carriers seem to instantiate their nation's
character, and some (like, for instance, bankrupt Swissair) seem to
contradict it. Air Zimbabwe is one of the former: a perfect
projection of the dysfunctional Robert Mugabe regime into the
aviation world -- it does everything wrong and still seems to
The latest word from the flag carrier of the onetime
"Switzerland of Africa" is that it's flat broke and can't buy fuel.
It has long since exhausted the good credit it began with 25 years
ago as the successor to Air Rhodesia; even Nigerian spammers aren't
sending email to Air ZImbabwe's offices any more.
The seven jets of Air Zimbabwe have spent more than one day in
the last few weeks sitting on the ramp at Harare, with flights to
all destinations cancelled. The terminal is reported to be teeming
with angry passengers -- or perhaps we should say, would-be
A Johannesburg, South Africa paper quoted a statement from Air
Zimbabwe Vice-Chairman Jonathan Kadzura: "The board would like to
sincerely apologize to all its valued customers for the
Some flights have
resumed, using fuel from the Zimbabwe Air Force, but that force
does not have sufficient stocks to sustain the airline for more
than a day or two, even at the expense of all it holds. Other fuel
is only available for cash in advance, due to the firm's habitual
non-payment of bills.
Air Zimbabwe pays its flight crews in US Dollars, cash, in
London, and has burnt enough bridges with vendors that it has to
pay cash for fuel and catering almost everywhere it goes. Air
Zimbabwe planes have gone without cleaning, catering and even
maintenance at overseas airports as a result of previous
Air Zim is in even deeper trouble than the service interruption
would indicate. It is in debt almost beyond calculation -- it owes
twice as many dollars as bankrupt Delta, but fortunately that's in
nearly-worthless Zimbabwe dollars. It hasn't been maintaining its
Boeing 767-200ER jets, and hasn't been able to pay its insurance
bills since 2001; the nation's civil aviation authority has been
picking up the slack. As the degree of financial mismanagement
became clearer, CEO Tendai Mahachi was summarily sacked, along with
corporate secretary Tendai Mujuru.
It turns out that the politically-connected Mahachi was hired
despite coming in fifth of five job interviewees, and Minister of
Transport Christopher Mushohwe is now denying he had anything to do
with hiring Mahachi. he had never met Mahachi before the
appointment. "I had nothing to do with his appointment.”
The airline once was prosperous, bringing tourists from Europe
to see the wildlife and scenery of Zimbabwe, including breathtaking
Victoria Falls. But with the government on the outs with most of
the civilized world, it now prefers to fly to places that receive
Perma-President Mugabe well -- a few holdout communist countries,
and some Arab sheikdoms.
Yet, despite its bad reputation, and the visibly deteriorated
condition of its aircraft, Air Zim actually has a decent safety
record. They have never had a fatal or hull-loss accident, since
becoming Air Zimbabwe; the two losses they inherit were forerunner
Air Rhodesia's planes, brought down by the terrorists of Joshua
Nkomo, who were purged from the Zim government by the terrorists of
Mugabe in the 1980s.
Nobody's shooting at the Air Zim planes today. Mugabe might be
twice the dictator Ian Smith was, but he's evidently a more
effective dictator, at least in security terms.
ministries have ordered one another to produce the fuel, but the
problem for the Zim ministries is that the fuel comes from outside
the country via multinational oil companies, and they learned long
ago that the only way to deal with Zimbabwe government entities is
Foreigners don't fly Air Zimbabwe these days, but for
Zimbabweans there may be no other choice. Every other airline
flying to Harare rejects the wildly inflated, non-convertible
Zimbabwe dollar, and foreign exchange is unavailable to ordinary
The Zimbabwe crisis goes far beyond the airline. The state
railway has also broken down, and fuel is unavailable to ordinary
citizens. The entire economy collapsed after President Mugabe
seized commercial farms and distributed them to political
supporters or broke them up into small, subsistence farms in 2000.
The farms once produced all of the nation's foodstuffs and almost
half of its foreign exchange.
Does the FAA consider it a safe airline? They duck the
"As there is no direct commercial air service between the United
States and Zimbabwe, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
has not assessed Zimbabwe’s Civil Aviation Authority for
compliance with ICAO international aviation safety standards."
Now, would we at Aero-News fly on Air Zim? Let's put it this
way. The only reason to fly on Air Zimbabwe is if you're going to
Zimbabwe. And no one in his right mind would leave a civilized
country to go to Zimbabwe -- the ablest Zimbabweans are going the
other way, if they can.
It's a moot point anyway... they're on the ground until the
government, or South Africa, which has been providing vast
humanitarian aid, kicks them some convertible currency. Does that
answer your question?
FMI: www.airzimbabwe.com (you can book
a flight there. Don't say we didn't warn ya).