Hopes of reviving Air Zimbabwe from years of ruin have been placed on two new aircraft that have started plying the Harare-Johannesburg and the Harare-Victoria Falls routes.
The first aircraft acquired by Air Zimbabwe is an Airbus A320, which began flying to South Africa on May 27, but the aircraft was temporarily grounded just days later following a bird strike that cracked its windscreen. The A320 was subsequently repaired.
Air Zimbabwe spokesperson Shingai Taruvinga said that because the aircraft was fully booked, the airline brought in its recently acquired Embraer regional jet to transport passengers following the bird strike.
Air Zimbabwe acquired the A320 to replace its old Boeing 767, and apparently will inaugurate another A320 into service at a later stage. “The aircraft will initially be deployed on the Harare-Johannesburg route and later on the other regional routes. This is an exciting moment for us at Air Zimbabwe as we will be able to better serve our valued customers,” Air Zimbabwe said last month.
Taruvingi said that, “Johannesburg is a very important market, it is the hub of southern Africa and we want to get the best from it. We are also working on the hub concept for Harare and we hope it can be the second hub in the region.”
The introduction of the A320 is a bid to improve the airline’s brand perception in order to compete with South African Airways, which has become the carrier of choice on the Harare-Johannesburg route.
In March this year Air Zimbabwe acquired another aircraft, a leased 50 seat Embraer ERJ 145, which launched operations at the end of May on the Harare-Victoria Falls route via Bulawayo.
Air Zimbabwe is attempting to bring the airline back onto a sound footing, through the acquisition of more modern aircraft and internal restructuring. As part of this turnaround process, the carrier at the end of May suspended 600 workers, leaving 300 in place.
“In order to rebuild the route network, offer professional competitive services on flights, increase financial returns and build a strong passenger base for the benefit of all stakeholders, the company has had to send over 600 employees on vacation leave,” Taruvinga said.
“A skeletal staff complement of 307 shall be retained for operations while the rest of the staff shall be sent on vacation leave to facilitate streamlined operations and optimum use of personnel for the next six months, at which point the airline will review progress.”
Air Zimbabwe has over $100 million of debt. It had to halt flights to South Africa and the United Kingdom in 2011 after aircraft were seized in Johannesburg and London over unpaid debts.
Air Zimbabwe’s fleet includes two Boeing 767-200s, three 737-200s and three Xian MA60s, although the serviceability of the MA60 is questionable, especially as one was damaged in an accident some years back. The airline’s fleet is used on one international and two domestic flights.