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Fly Kumba airline grounded

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Zimbabwe’s first low-cost airline, Fly Kumba, has suspended operations with immediate effect barely 12 months after taking to the skies.

The airline made its debut flight in March last year.

At the time of the launch, the airline cost half what Air Zimbabwe charged and four times less than travelling on South African Airways on the Bulawayo-Johannesburg route.

The company, operated by two South Africa-based Zimbabwean businessmen Patrick Chapwanya and Lloyd Muchaka, had brought relief to the travelling public due to its affordable fares.

Insiders at the airline confirmed the development, saying the company had been facing operational challenges for a long time.

“There are nagging issues that management is currently dealing with,” said an official.

“The airline encountered a number of operational challenges that have resulted in the suspension of operations.”

The airline placed adverts in the local media at the weekend saying: “The management and staff of Fly Kumba (Pvt) Ltd would like to apologise to all its valued clients and agencies for the cancellation of its flights from January 8 2011. The airline is currently working on refunding all affected passengers.”

Fly Kumba was operating a Boeing 737-500 leased from Air Namibia with a capacity of 108 passengers.

The airline had anticipated taking advantage of the country’s economic and business growth, resulting in an increase in the percentage of travellers.

At its launch, the budget airline said it intended to become the country’s preferred low-cost airline, delivering the lowest air fares with the highest consumer value and offering world-class service.

Statistics contained in a 2009 document titled Tourism Trends and Statistics report 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 report also notes that the market share for Air Zimbabwe fell by 11% in 2009, which saw South African Airways taking over the leading position in terms of passenger market share in the country.

The demise of the Fly Kumba comes at a time when Air Zimbabwe is reportedly operating at a loss of $2 million a month and has a debt of up to $64 million.

Air Zimbabwe, which used to fly on 25 routes, but currently services just seven as it tries to minimise costs, is one of several state-owned utilities which the government plans to sell through privatisation and commercialisation of loss-making parastatals.

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