The unbundling of Air Zimbabwe Holdings last week into two entities, Air Zimbabwe Pvt (Ltd) and the National Handling Services, was long overdue and should be welcomed with a measure of optimism that this time around the national airline will turn the corner and be run professionally, and finally profitably.
Our airline had become the world’s laughing stock and needed urgent extrication from the precipice.
Saddled with a staggering $150 million debt, the national carrier was as good as dead.
It is against this backcloth that we welcome the move to unbundle Air Zimbabwe, but the exercise can only be successful if government and management at the airline change their business ethics.
The abuse meted out by politicians who went on free junkets at the expense of the airline’s viability as well as a bloated staff of more than 1 400 should be brought to an end.
One of the fundamental issues that the airline should deal with is staff rationalisation. The new airline needs a leaner, manageable structure.
The restructured airline should be run on strictly commercial lines without interference from politicians.
It must be run by a competent board that understands international financing, which is the hallmark of successful airlines the world over.
For the turnaround strategy to succeed, Air Zimbabwe also desperately needs a strategic partner to inject fresh capital into the airline.
This should not be a problem now given that the government has agreed to assume the $150 million debt as part of the country’s sovereign liabilities.
If government fails to lure a strategic partner, it should come up with ways to finance the new Air Zimbabwe.
It has been proved that an airline can still be successful even if government enjoys 100% ownership. This is clearly demonstrated by the wholly government-owned Ethiopian Airlines. It is run purely on commercial lines.
Ethiopian Airlines is rated as one of the continent’s leading carriers, unrivalled in Africa for efficiency and operational success, turning profits for almost all the years of its existence. It serves 62 international destinations and has a modern fleet.
Our new Air Zimbabwe could also benefit from a public-private partnership, to which the success story of Kenya Airways can attest.
The Kenyan airline was wholly-owned by the Kenyan government until April 1995 and it was privatised in 1996 becoming the first African flag carrier to successfully do so.
Kenya Airways is currently a public/private partnership. The largest shareholder is KLM (26%), followed by the Kenyan government which has a 23% stake in the company.
This is the template. Air Zimbabwe can fly again!