Harare (New Ziana) – National airline, Air Zimbabwe will take delivery of an Embraer ERJ 145 plane within the next eight weeks as it moves to expand its route network in line with a business turn-around plan which was approved by Cabinet last year, Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister Felix Mhona said on Monday.
In a further boost to the airline’s revival plans, Mhona said funding had been secured to clear Air Zimbabwe’s debt with the International Air Transport Association, paving way for its re-admission into the association.
Re-admission into IATA would also enable Air Zimbabwe to undergo the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) which will enable it to freely fly globally.
Mhona told a press briefing that the anticipated arrival of the Embraer, would bring to two the number of such planes on Air Zimbabwe’s books.
“Within the next eight weeks at most, we will be having our new baby, again an Embraer ERJ 145 that we have procured and as we speak a team is doing the C-Check’s (on the plane) so that it then flies into the country,” he said.
The airline currently has eight aircraft in total: two Boeing 777s, two Boeing 767s, three Boeing 737s and a 50-seater Embraer ERJ 145.
“Regarding IATA, I am happy to say the funding has been secured so you will see us clearing that debt and once we are done with that then we will be able to re-join IATA. The debt to IATA is currently US$1.4 million.”
Mhona pledged continued government support for Air Zimbabwe to ensure it regains its lost market share, and rebuilds its brand image by offering world class service.
He said Air Zimbabwe’s six-year Strategic Turnaround Plan was expected to propel the airline towards growth, sustainability and profitability.
“Treasury has been chipping in for the needs of the airline as they present. This is what we will be doing as they move towards a break-even point. With the full support of the shareholder the airline is fully funded,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mhona appointed a six-member board for Air Zimbabwe for a three-year term, chaired by Dr Silvanos Gwarinda, who will be deputised by Ruth Hungwe-Rukarwa.
Other members include former Air Zim chief executive officer Edmund Makona, Lawrence Musendekwa, Ticharwa Garabga and Mucharemba Kahombe.
A seventh member, who will be the third woman on the board, will be announced in due course.
Mhona tasked the board with overseeing the successful implementation of Air Zimbabwe’s Business Plan, as well as creating a lean, and competent organisation while adhering to provisions of the Public Entities Corporate Governance Act.
“Finalise the procurement of an aircraft initiated by the interim board, with the view to increase the number of aircraft during your three-year term, increase frequencies and customer confidence on your airline on current route network for a dependable, customer-centric schedule which can better serve the market with convenient and affordable travel,” he said.
“Develop a strong hub and spoke network with Harare and Victoria Falls as the main and tourist hubs respectively. This entails activating possible partnerships for smaller equipment to service the full spectrum of airport network in Zimbabwe and launch at least two regional routes in the first six months of your tenure.”
In his acceptance speech, board chairman Gwarinda said bold and tough decisions would be taken to restore Air Zimbabwe’s glory.
He said one of the strategies his board would pursue was ensuring that Air Zimbabwe becomes an active participant in tourism marketing and promotional campaigns.
“Air Zimbabwe should be able to enjoy a substantial amount of this air travel market share. Zimbabwe is our home base. We cannot be seen to be playing second fiddle to other players in the development of Zimbabwe’s global air access,” he said.
“Air Zimbabwe will have to aggressively pursue joint venture relationships with all key SADC airlines. This would promote transborder air travel by providing seamless flight connectivity via coordinated flight schedules. This provides more flight options, scheduled at more convenient times via the enhanced code-shared flights.
“Selling seats on each other’s flights and sharing the revenues is a win-win business philosophy in a competitive but collaborative aviation environment.”
Gwarinda added: “Such a focused market penetration strategy of the SADC market will enhance and grow Air Zimbabwe and SADC carriers’ route-networks. It will be an engine for quick air traffic growth during the post-COVID-19 Recovery Period.”
He said current challenges at Air Zimbabwe included low utilisation of the existing fleet for various reasons and loss of experienced employees.
“There is reliance on operating short sectors only, and low passenger load factors are being achieved, this is a recipe for disaster in the aviation world. Why? Your aircraft unit costs per hour and per seat will be increased substantially. This will result in very high and unsustainable break-even load factors. As per your guidance, Hon. Minister, we are going to work extremely hard to reverse such a trend.
“There is a huge gap in the provision of air cargo capacity between Zimbabwe and our trading partners. This is an opportunity that Air Zimbabwe will have to seriously consider when they work on their Fleet Development Plan.”
Air Zimbabwe is currently plying domestic routes including Harare-Bulawayo and Harare-Victoria Falls while regional ones include flights to Johannesburg and Tanzania.