AirZim boss quietly leaves… national flag carrier ‘still in the woods’

Silvanos Gwarinda

THE man, who took over as Air Zimbabwe (AirZim) chairperson about five months ago, quietly stepped out of the hot seat in November, ending one of the shortest tenures at the helm of the haemorrhaging airline.

Silvanos Gwarinda, a relatively unknown, but highly qualified aviation executive, this week told businessdigest the airline was “still in the woods”, before sending out his best wishes to policymakers battling to stem the carnage.

He was not at liberty to disclose why he abruptly departed, choosing instead, to shower President Emmerson Mnangagwa and Transport minister Felix Mhona with unrestricted praise for giving him the chance to lead.

But his departure could be a huge blow for AirZim, the airline in which he was given the tough mandate to explore the Southern African Development Community region for new routes.

Under government’s plan, Gwarinda was expected to add new destinations to AirZim’s network from February 2023.

In August, Mhona had told businessdigest that government’s new vision for the airline revolved around route development.

He said the groundwork for route expansion started when government announced plans to acquire short-range aircraft to complement a small fleet currently traversing domestic and two regional destinations.

Speaking exclusively to businessdigest, Gwarinda said he resigned to pursue “personal interests”.

“I resigned from the Air Zimbabwe board chairmanship last month,” he said. “This was purely for personal reasons. I take this opportunity to thank Honourable Mhona, the Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development and most importantly … the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe for their full confidence in me as demonstrated by the appointment,” Gwarinda said.

“I continue to yearn for a quick turn-around of Air Zimbabwe, especially at this critical time when the Air Zimbabwe shareholder is very keen and supportive of any meaningful strategies that would help steer the airline out of the woods.

“My resignation should be considered in a collaborative way. I will continue to interact very closely with the whole of the Zimbabwean aviation and tourism fraternity as we move towards firmly placing Zimbabwe on the global tourism map in line with National Development Strategy 1 imperatives (NDS-1).

“I remain to be an aviation and tourism resource person and part of the Zimbabwean aviation family.”

NDS-1 is a blueprint announced by government in 2021 to guide economic recovery efforts under its Vision 2030 strategy.

Early this year, the airline came out of a four-year-long administration phase, in which debts hit over US$300 million.

In August, Mhona had given Gwarinda only six months to fix key issues and grow the airline’s routes.

“There is room for increasing our route network, especially with the anticipated acquisition of another aircraft,” Mhona said then.

“I am expecting the launching of at least two regional routes in the first six months of the tenure of the substantive board. As a matter of fact, plans are already afoot for this development.”

Mhona was not at liberty to say which routes the airline would be targeting.

However, before being overwhelmed by problems at the turn of the century, AirZim was among a league of a few state-run airlines that dominated regional markets, with frequencies into Lusaka, Lilongwe, Nairobi, Kinshasa, Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg and Cape Town from Harare and Bulawayo.

It also had a presence in several other African destinations.

But a passenger exodus to airlines with modern aircraft, along with inability to run flights on schedule, over a period spanning many years, has forced the airline to trim its network to concentrate on domestic routes.

The airline currently flies to Johannesburg and Dar es Salaam from Harare, complementing domestic destinations.

Mhona said in August protracted efforts to turn AirZim around had been scaled up.

“Among the deliverables that I am expecting from the new substantive board is the finalisation of the procurement of an aircraft that was initiated by the interim board,” he said.

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