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Zimbabwe’s aviation body the worst in the world – report

altZimbabwe’s troubled aviation industry received another blow this week when a report, giving their Civil Aviation Authority a customer satisfaction index of 29%, was made public.

The Zimbabwe Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAAZ) 29% customer satisfaction index is an all time low and far below the generally accepted worldwide figure of 68%. The customer satisfaction report was commissioned by the CAAZ and published in August last year, and obtained by the Sunday Times last week.

In the report, airlines, pilots and service providers lambasted the CAAZ for incompetence and blamed its management for a multitude of problems.

"Senior management tend to be too authoritative, like a father-son relationship, the CEO [David Chawota] is inaccessible and arrogant, and he lacks the strategic vision to see the parastatal through,” the report said.

"CAAZ deliberately delays assessment and processing of documents and ignores stakeholder complaints. The previous CEO had a vision and people at heart. Most pilots interviewed said there should be no politics at CAAZ as this had led to the appalling conditions which have forced most of them to leave for other countries," reads part of the report.

Much of the infrastructure at airports is not working, the report says, adding that equipment such as conveyor belts have been broken for over a year. Passengers bemoaned the often out of order check-in systems and flight notification screens.

More serious are complaints from airlines that runway lights did not work half the time and during wet weather. Management admitted that its surveillance and communications systems were obsolete, making Zimbabwe’s airspace very dangerous to fly in.

Yet another problem is wild animals on the runway, particularly warthogs at Harare International Airport. In November last year an Air Zimbabwe MA 60 hit five warthogs during takeoff, injuring several passengers and causing extensive damage to the aircraft. A few weeks later a South African Airways aircraft hit two warthogs during takeoff. The CAAZ hired a private security company to put up an airport perimeter fence and introduce a new surveillance system. However, the pigs often burrow under the fences.

Some projects that were started nearly a decade ago have still not been completed, such as renovations at Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport in Bulawayo. Work on upgrading the terminal began in 2003 and was supposed to have been completed in July 2005, but work was suspended in 2006. It was resumed early last year, but hindered by lack of funds, and will only be completed some time this year, CAAZ chief executive David Chawota said in September 2010.

The report is another indicator of Zimbabwe’s troubled aviation industry, which has been ailed by the country’s economic meltdown, its political crisis and economic sanctions. For instance, in 1988 there were 1206 active pilots in Zimbabwe 380 active aircraft, but today there are around 167 pilots and 65 active aircraft, the Sunday Times reports.

Zimbabwe’s national carrier, Air Zimbabwe, has also suffered from the country’s aviation decline. It is operating at a loss of US$2 million a month and has a debt of up to US$64 million, even though the government gives it US$3 million every month, the Sunday Times reports.

On December 30 last year Peter Chikumba, chief executive officer of national carrier Air Zimbabwe, quit after four years in the position. His departure followed strikes by Air Zimbabwe pilots in September and early December over demands for higher salaries and better working conditions. During the two week strike in September, the carrier lost more than US$5 million and was forced to hire aircraft and crew from South Africa to serve some of its routes.

Air Zimbabwe sacked 400 workers in the strike, who subsequently engaged the carrier in a legal battle, demanding US$1.3 million worth of severance pay that was awarded to them by an independent arbitrator.

Chikumba’s departure also came months after a parliamentary investigation revealed that the national carrier was unable to service its aircraft or pay its mounting debts.

Air Zimbabwe's passenger numbers have declined by more than 30% since 2000. This coincided with a sharp drop in tourist arrivals as the country plunged into a political and economic crisis. Air Zimbabwe used to fly on 25 routes, but currently services just seven as it tries to minimise costs. As a result, South African airlines have been taking over from the national carrier. Statistics contained in a 2009 report entitled Tourism Trends and Statistics, produced by the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, indicate that five of the major airlines serving Zimbabwe (Air Zimbabwe, South African Airways, British Airways/Comair, Air Namibia and South African Airlink) take up 93% of the airline market share in the country. The three South African operators take up 87% of the market.

Zimbabwe’s first low-cost carrier, Fly Kumba, aimed to challenge South Africa’s dominance of the Zimbabwean market, but it ceased operations on January 8. The airline originally planned to start operations in September 2009, but only got going in March 2010, with a flight from Bulawayo to Johannesburg. They were flying the route three times a week on a Boeing 737-500 leased from Air Namibia until shutting down less than a year later. At the time of its launch, Fly Kumba was half the price of Air Zimbabwe and four times cheaper than South African Airways.

In early January this year Air Zimbabwe asked the government – its sole shareholder – for US$500 million to buy two new aircraft for regional routes and two new aircraft for long haul flights. The carrier wants new aircraft to supplement its 30 year old fleet, which is heavy on fuel and maintenance. Although Air Zimbabwe has had no fatal accidents since 1980, the airline’s bosses have been concerned by the ageing fleet.

Air Zimbabwe flies two Boeing 767-200s between Harare-China and Harare-London. The airline also has three 737-200s which service regional routes including flights to South Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Domestic routes are mainly flown by three Chinese Xian MA 60 turboprops.
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