“It is simple and straightforward – there is no fussy thing about it; it’s just a business transaction done above board.” So said Zimbabwe Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development, Joram Gumbo, in a telephonic interview with Tourism Update today (April 12) when questioned about the purchase of Boeing 777-200s by national carrier Air Zimbabwe (AirZim), from Malaysia Airlines. Or would that be, Zimbabwe Airways (ZimAir)?
Reporting bodies believe that ZimAir is an initiative targeted at sabotaging the debt-ridden national flag carrier which is said to be in debt in excess of US$330m (€267.6m), to pave way for the new private airline. Some claim that it is being set up as a legitimate rebrand of Air Zimbabwe. However, information gathered indicates that Zimbabwe Airways is ‘owned’ by a government-formed operation known as the Zimbabwe Aviation Leasing Company, which Gumbo says was set up to take over and manage all negotiations regarding the purchase of the Boeing 777-200s – after government was turned down by 12 airlines to partner with the ailing Air Zimbabwe.
“Internally, our government decided to look for partners, to partner Air Zimbabwe, but because of that debt we could not attract any. We started negotiating with the 12 airlines, but they were obviously not interested. So we approached a company called DWC who were selling some of their old equipment. They agreed to sell us the planes on an account, and then we discovered we did not have enough money as a government. After negotiations, we went into a deal of buying the aeroplanes…we have not yet fully paid; we have only been able to collect one, and still have to collect three after making our full payment (by the end of June). What we did after we discovered that we had no money, is we went into a lease arrangement. A joint-venture company that we put forward to do the negotiations – Zimbabwe Aviation Leasing Company – are the ones that are negotiating.”
Gumbo added that “Ethiopian Airlines was interested, but they wanted to take over all our routes, and I was not interested.”
Manager of Corporate Communications for Ethiopian Airlines, Aniley Eshetu said it must be noted that Ethiopian Airlines engages in a win-win partnership with many airlines throughout the continent with a view to enable African carriers to claim their rightful share of the African market, currently dominated at 80% by non-African airlines, adding: ”We have always been, and are ready to, cooperate and partner with the national carrier of Zimbabwe in a Pan-African spirit.”
No comment was given by Gumbo on the total price being paid for the four aircraft, but media reports indicate that a total of US$70m (€56.8m) will be paid for the four second-hand aircraft. At this juncture it must be noted that the list price of one Boeing 777-200 is US$261.5m (€212.08m).
Concern over the safety of the second-hand aircraft is rife, with some reports saying that Malaysia Airlines retired the aircraft in late 2015 due to their being faulty and unsafe. However, a release published by Malaysia Airlines put the retirements down to a restructuring of the company, and the decline in ticket sales attributed to the mass negative publicity that two consecutive incidents caused, know as the MH370 and MH17 incidents.
In an article published in Newsday today, Zimbabwe Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa, commented that the government also engaged with Boeing which, after a due diligence exercise, recommended that the aircraft were good assets with ‘a lifespan of 15 to 20 years’. According to the report, he also blamed sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe as the reason why government failed to follow the laid-down procedures to acquire the aircraft from Malaysia. The report further stated that “the minister said the project was kept under wraps, as part of a sanctions-busting measure and to avoid disruptions in negotiations”.