The financially-beleaguered Air Zimbabwe (AirZim) on Saturday despatched an “almost empty” Boeing 767 to South Africa to pick up President Robert Mugabe as he flew back from a “routine medical check-up” in Singapore.
Impeccable sources told NewsDay yesterday that the Boeing 767 — with a capacity for 205 passengers — left Harare on Saturday around 4am for Waterkloof Airforce Base Airport in Gauteng with about 10 cabin crew members to airlift Mugabe, his wife Grace and about 15 aides and security details.
Mugabe left Zimbabwe on Monday last week using the same “empty” Boeing 767. He flew into South Africa from where he then boarded a commercial flight to Singapore.
The sources said the two trips had bled the struggling national airline, which has ceased regional and international flights due to a myriad of problems, mainly to do with cash flow.
Mugabe, government ministers and senior government officials have over the years been accused of flying around the world using AirZim without paying the airline — an accusation the President and State have adamantly denied.
The Boeing 767 requires at least 20 000 litres of Jet A1 fuel for a return trip to South Africa.
“The plane left Harare with about 10 cabin crew members at around 4am on Saturday for Waterkloof Airport to pick up the President,” one of the sources said.
“It was back home around 10am. The two trips were costly to AirZim. The costs included things like fuel, landing rights and airspace. The plane required about
40 000 litres of fuel at a cost of about 60c a litre.”
This makes the cost of the fuel alone $24 000.
Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba yesterday confirmed that AirZim uplifted the President from South Africa, but denied that the airline was being abused.
He said the President’s Office had chartered the plane.
He said it was not the President’s Office’s business to choose a Boeing 767 to pick up Mugabe and his entourage.
“We don’t allocate planes, we charter them for the President and AirZim decides what to give us,” Charamba said.
Efforts to get a comment from AirZim chief executive officer Innocent Mavhunga yesterday were in vain as he was not answering his phone. He did not respond to a text message sent on his mobile number.
AirZim, which resumes domestic flights this week after suspending them last week to give way to mandatory modifications, is struggling to raise over $40 million owed to workers and faces a ban from using international airports and airspaces of other countries if it fails to meet a three-month International Air Transport Association deadline to comply with global safety standards.
The national airline suspended international flights indefinitely in February after one of its planes was impounded in the UK over a $1,2 million debt accumulated by the airline over a long period.
A week later, AirZim suspended its flights to South Africa to avoid having its planes seized over a $500 000 debt owed to a South African supplier.