Farirai Machivenyika and Auxilia Katongomara
National carrier, Air Zimbabwe, yesterday took delivery of an Embraer ERJ145 aircraft bought from the US as efforts to revive its fortunes gather momentum.
The plane landed at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport yesterday morning.
Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa revealed the development during her weekly presentation of the Cabinet decision matrix.
“The Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development (Joel Biggie Matiza) informed Cabinet that the long-awaited Embraer plane has now been delivered to the country, having landed at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport around 9AM,” she said.
“This marks a significant step in efforts to revive the national airline, Air Zimbabwe.”
Minister Matiza told the briefing that President Mnangagwa was expected to launch the aeroplane soon.
“The plane will be flying regional and domestic routes, although the specific routes have not been done yet, but that will be done once we do our inaugural flight which will be graced by His Excellency the President,” Minister Matiza said.
Apart from the Embraer plane, Air Zimbabwe is also expected to take delivery of two Boeing 777-200 ERs and they are expected in the country soon.
The acquisition comes at a time when the airline’s only plane that was operational hit birds on Friday while flying from Bulawayo to Harare resulting in sparks coming from the engine.
It experienced a malfunction on one of its engines resulting in a brief tail pipe fire as it was flying from Johannesburg to Harare on Sunday.
In an interview earlier yesterday Air Zimbabwe corporate affairs manager, Mr Tafadzwa Mazonde said:
“Government has delivered on its commitment and promise to resuscitate Air Zimbabwe after the national airline took delivery today of the first additional aircraft, an Embraer ERJ145 purchased from the United States of America. The 50-seater jet is expected to go through the local registration process as well as all mandatory checks, tests and certification before it enters into service within the next 21 days.”
Mr Mazonde said all the crew and engineers licensed for the aircraft have been drawn from within the current human capital pool, a sign of the high level of competent skills available in Zimbabwe.
News of the new plane’s delivery came as the airline also said yesterday investigations into the incident in which its Boeing 767-200ER’s left tail light caught fire as it was flying from Johannesburg to Harare was complete.
In a statement, Air Zimbabwe said the fire was as a result of a foreign object ingestion on the left engine at take-off and the engine has since been replaced.
“The left engine has since been replaced. Mandatory test flights and checks have been successfully carried out. The aircraft is expected back in service in the evening on Tuesday, 30 April 2019,” reads the statement.
The airline, which has been consistently underperforming in the last few years, was placed under reconstruction on October 4 this year in terms of the Reconstruction of State-Indebted Insolvent Companies Act (Chapter 24:27).
It is under the administration of Mr Reggie Saruchera of Grant Thornton whose mandate is to turn around the bottom line of the national airline.
The move was designed to allow Air Zimbabwe an opportunity to clear its debt thought to be upwards of $334 million.
During the reconstruction process, all payments towards debts accrued by the company prior to October 4 last year, would be temporarily suspended and settled in terms of this process.
Air Zimbabwe, like most parastatals, has been going through difficult times for a long period due to mismanagement, resulting in its withdrawal from the lucrative Harare-London to avoid the seizure of its aircraft.
One of Air Zimbabwe’s long haul aircraft, a Boeing 767-200 popularly known as Victoria Falls, was impounded by American General Supplies at Gatwick International Airport in London in December 2011 over debts amounting to $1,2 million.
In 1980, Air Zimbabwe had 18 aircraft flying into 31 destinations but it is now limited to Harare-Johannesburg, Harare-Bulawayo and Harare-Victoria Falls and Harare-Dar es Salaam routes.