FINANCE minister Mthuli Ncube says Air Zimbabwe will take off in earnest in 2020, with five planes.
Ncube also told the National Assembly that Treasury was also going to assume the airline’s toxic US$381 million debt through an “innovative mechanism”.
BY VENERANDA LANGA
He was responding to concerns raised by MPs during debate on the main estimates of expenditure to do with the budget on the Transport ministry vote of $3, 2 billion.
Ironically, the Auditor-General Mildred Chiri, in her audit reports, said three Zimbabwe Airways Boeing 777s had disappeared after the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) issued Treasury Bills worth US$52,8 million for their purchase.
But RBZ Governor John Mangudya, who appeared before the Tendai Biti-led Public Accounts Committee in October defended the issue saying the planes had not yet been delivered and were still being refurbished.
“There were actually four airplanes purchased from Malaysia and one of my principles is to tell the truth. Two of the planes are fully paid up and will be coming after refurbishment, and we are still looking for money to pay for the other two. As the paymaster, I paid for four planes.
“When I checked with the Ministry of Transport, they said anytime this year the two planes will be in Zimbabwe after refurbishment. The planes will be in the name of Air Zimbabwe because Zimbabwe Airways was more like a shelf company. We used to owe farmers and were afraid that those planes would be taken,” Mangudya said.
On Wednesday in the National Assembly, Ncube said: “On Air Zimbabwe, we are expecting basically four aircraft – two from Malaysia that we have paid for, and the Ministry of Transport has indicated that they are likely to be in the country by the end of the year, and then we have the one that is already here internally – the big one,” Ncube said.
“The fourth one is an Embraer that was brought into the country a few months ago, and so there are four aircraft in total and I am told that there is maybe another one that we could lease from a neighbouring country which is somewhere in Africa, and the five will kickstart Air Zimbabwe” he said.
Ncube said the strategy is to get all the planes and equipment in place in the country and then begin the relaunch of Air Zimbabwe to support the tourism sector.
“The intention is that its operations are commercial enough so that there is business to do in terms of moving people and tourists around, and I am hopeful that Air Zimbabwe will take off in earnest in 2020,” he said.
“We have been sufficiently briefed by the Minister of Transport that at least one aircraft will arrive before Christmas, and maybe by the end of 2019, both aircrafts from Malaysia will arrive. We have paid for the aircraft and so we are making progress in our quest to rebuild Air Zimbabwe,” he said.
Kambuzuma MP Willias Madzimure said currently Air Zimbabwe was costing the country a fortune because all the staff there was manning one plane.
“It does not make any sense. Look at how Victoria Falls is now being marketed. Air Rwanda is now flying direct to Victoria Falls. South Africa markets Victoria Falls as their own destination because they can make available efficient transport, even internal travelling,” Madzimure said.
Chegutu West MP Dexter Nduna said it would be better for Zimbabwe to also procure smaller Embraer ERJ aircraft.
“A second-hand ERJ costs US$1, 5 million and in its five years of life it can recoup investment which is second to none. It can be used for domestic traversing of the airspace and it is the quickest plane that you can employ in order to make sure you revitalise and revamp Air Zimbabwe,” Nduna said.