Last week the struggling airline said it resume flights between the capital Harare and the second city Bulawayo and Victoria Falls on Monday, but staff remain on strike due to the non-payment of salaries and allowances.
Air Zimbabwe suspended all domestic flights in mid-January following a strike by employees who were demanding their salaries and allowances that have been outstanding since 2009.
Air Zimbabwe acting chief executive officer Innocent Mavhunga told NewZiana that, "The company is addressing the issue as a matter of urgency. It's true that we failed to resumes flights as expected. We failed to reach a compromise on salary issues with workers on time.”
"We are still locked up on negotiations and its difficult to issue a new time frame for resumption of flights, but Air Zimbabwe would be back on air soon," he said on Tuesday.
Air Zimbabwe suspended all flights to South Africa and the United Kingdom in early January to avoid its planes from being impounded by increasingly frustrated creditors owed about US$149 million by the airline.
On December 12, 2011, an Air Zimbabwe Boeing 767-200 was impounded at Gatwick Airport after American General Suppliers received a court order for US$1.2 million the airline owed for spare parts. The aircraft was only released on December 20 once the debt had been settled, but due to technical problems and a lack of spares the Boeing only left for Zimbabwe on December 24, arriving the following morning.
On December 2, Bid Air Services seized air Zimbabwe’s Boeing 737-500 over US$500 000 of unpaid debt. The aircraft was impounded shortly after landing at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport, as Bid Air parked a vehicle behind the aircraft to ensure it could not leave. Bid Air later allowed the aircraft to return to Zimbabwe.
Other airlines are taking advantage of Air Zimbabwe’s collapse. Emirates at the beginning of this month began flying between Harare, Lusaka and Dubai several times a week while Air Namibia, which stopped flying to Zimbabwe 13 years ago, will resume services to the country in May.
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.
Air Zimbabwe is facing the prospect of liquidation after being placed under judicial management following its rising debt level. Last month Zimbabwe’s High Court appointed a judicial manager for the struggling airline and barred the Air Zimbabwe board from any involvement with the company. The move came after unpaid employees sought an intervention from the courts.
A lawyer representing the Air Zimbabwe workers, Caleb Mucheche, said the airline had failed to pay workers since January 2009 and had accumulated arrears of up to US$35 million by the end of December.
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