Industry calls for Air Zim revival

HARARE - Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce (ZNCC) says government must come up with a comprehensive strategy to recapitalise Air Zimbabwe as part of strategies to revive the country’s tourism industry.

The industrial body told Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa to take over the $300 million Air Zimbabwe debt and also urged government officials to desist from a fly-now-pay-later culture.

“Alternatively, government can find a strategic partner for a debt-equity swap,” ZNCC said in its 2016 National Budget recommendations presented to Chinamasa.

This comes as the national airline is struggling to stay afloat due to a choking $300 million debt and increased competition from low-cost airlines that are also “encroaching” into its lucrative routes such as Harare–Johannesburg and Harare–Victoria Falls.

Aviation experts, however, believe the national flag carrier— currently in negotiations to partner with Qatar Airlines — must not be allowed to collapse due to its strategic importance in the local tourism industry.

Zimbabwe’s tourism industry has the capacity to contribute nearly $5 billion annually in tourism receipts, but is being hampered by destination inaccessibility, high taxes and high product costs.

Air Namibia’s Zimbabwe country manager Forbes Zaranyika told businessdaily that national airlines should be financially supported by governments and protected from unfair competition from budget airlines.

“National Airlines are a symbol of national pride and must be protected by governments at all costs,” he said.

Zaranyika said countries with thriving tourism industries are supported by vibrant national airlines that are adequately financed by their governments.

Despite various challenges being experienced in the aviation industry, this has not deterred an increasing number of African countries from planning or launching new flag carriers.

Several African countries such as Nigeria, Zambia, Uganda and South Sudan are all exploring creating new airlines, as they push back against the economic realities of depending on foreign or privately-owned carriers, but there is also a healthy dose of the pursuit of national pride.

Last month, two Airbus A320 jets took off from Kinshasa’s Ndjili International Airport heralding the start of operations by Congo Airways.

The new national airline, partly developed by Air France, replaces Lignes Aeriennes Congolaises (Lac), which went bankrupt in 2003, with Congolese officials saying it was sorely needed in the vast country where nearly all airlines are blacklisted by the European Union and most flights are run by the United Nations.

The Congolese airline joins a growing list of African countries pursuing national flag carriers — a particularly grand gesture that asserts a country’s visibility but which is rarely supported by economic fundamentals.

In his state-of-the-nation speech in September, Zambia president Edgar Lungu said the government plans to start operating a national airline in 2016, towards which it has made “significant progress” including $1,7 billion earmarked for upgrading airports.

Flag carrier Zambia Airways was liquidated in 1994, with a clutch of successive attempts such as Aero Zambia, Zambian Airlines and Zambezi Airlines also going belly up.

Comments (2)

The idea of governments supporting their national airlines is noble and is VERY common international. The issue on hand with Air Zimbabwe is that some government officials are thwarting this effort by lying in bed with budget/charter airlines. The Min of Transport Perm Sec is trying by all means to have the airline sink into oblivion. Every effort put across for the resurrection of the airline he shoots down as he wants to bring in other airlines at his benefit. The foreign airline would externalise profits. There are no job creation but all he wants is to line up his pocket. Therefore when the government have such personnel running strategic institutions, nothing works except wishful thinking only.

Twocents - 18 November 2015

It is a noble idea for governments to support their national airlines financially, but it is another issue interfering with the day to day operations of the airlines. The governments should leave those with the aviation expertise to run these institutions commercially

Noble - 18 November 2015

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