Zimbabwe’s beleaguered national passenger airline, Air Zimbabwe, has taken a plunge amid revelations yesterday several flights, including the Harare-London and Harare-Johannesburg flights, were cancelled because the airline could not meet its fuel obligations.
Air Zimbabwe officials confirmed the sad developments saying the faltering airline was failing to pay for fuel, forcing suppliers — who were reportedly owed in excess of $1,6 million — to stop deliveries.
Air Zimbabwe acting chief executive officer Innocent Mavhunga, however, said he was unaware of the flight cancellations although he admitted all was not well at the parastatal.
“Coming from a strike, we definitely have cashflow problems,” Mavhunga said. “So we took a step to rationalise. When we have few passengers, then we combine some flights rather than flying low. We are having challenges on fuel, but it is coincidental with the way we are doing things.”
Officials at the airline’s reservations desk, however, told NewsDay the crisis-ridden airline had been forced to cancel the flights because of fuel shortages.
“It (the London flight) is no longer going,” said an employee who answered the phone at the desk. Sources closer to the day-to-day running of Air Zimbabwe confirmed the airline was getting deeper in trouble. “
The fuel companies on Tuesday informed us that they were no longer going to supply us with fuel due to the unpaid debt,” one of the sources said.
Asked for comment last night, a marketing manager with one of the fuel suppliers allegedly owed by the airline was non-committal.
“Ask Air Zimbabwe, they are in a better position to comment,” said the manager, who declined to be named.
Sources said Air Zimbabwe cancelled its Harare-Johannesburg Tuesday night flight to save fuel and the aircraft only flew to Johannesburg yesterday morning while the Harare-Bulawayo flight and the Harare-Lusaka-Lubumbashi flight managed to take off after the airline made last-minute cash arrangements to pay for fuel.
As the airline’s troubles mount, disgruntled pilots are said to have confronted Mavhunga on Tuesday over the nonpayment of their salaries while the National Social Security Authority attempted to attach Air Zimbabwe property over unremitted workers’ pension contributions.
In March pilots went on strike over unpaid allowances while some of the airline’s aged planes were grounded by the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe.