Is AirZim's recapitalisation on right path?

© OF late, there has been a lot of positive reportage on the Air Zimbabwe (AirZim) recapitalisation process. 
I, however, do not share the same positivity about the AirZim re-fleeting strategy because doing so would be celebrating mediocrity. 

Unfortunately, these are the lows that we have now become so accustomed to in Zimbabwe.

According to media reports quoting AirZim’s administrator Reggie Saruchera, the national airline has taken delivery of a 50-seater ERJ145 aircraft. 
If these reports are anything to go by, the airline is also expecting additional acquisitions of the same type aircraft, as well as the two B777 aircrafts. 

Sadly, the truth of the matter is that AirZim is acquiring these very old aircrafts at a time other African airlines are adding to their fleets new and cost-effective planes.
Zimbabwe is one of several African airlines currently resuscitating their national airlines through home-grown recapitalisation programmes. 

Air Tanzania recently acquired brand new state-of-the-art regional as well as long-haul planes. 
To be specific, they acquired B787 (Dreamliner) for their long-haul operations and A220 for their domestic and regional operations. 
The A220 aircraft has been touted as a game changer in terms of regional aircraft operations in terms of its operational efficiency as well as cost effectiveness.

Fellow East African carrier, Uganda Airlines has also acquired, and is taking delivery of brand new CRJ900 plane which will operate domestic and regional routes. 

I have been made to understand that they will also acquire a brand new A330 Neo aircraft for their long-haul flights. 
The A330 Neo is a versatile aircraft, which can also be deployed on short domestic and regional routes without compromising viability. 

It is for the same reason that Senegal has also gone for the same aircraft.
The aforementioned are just a few examples of African countries going about their recapitalisation and re-fleeting programmes the right way. 

Any country serious about recapitalising its national airline has to do a thorough and unavoidable process which starts with a fleet feasibility study and followed by a careful due diligence procedure before state resources are committed.
The same cannot be said about the AirZim recapitalisation process, which, for all intents and purposes, has been obscure and riddled with corruption. 

The acquisition of the B777 from Malaysia was under very suspicious circumstances. 
For a start, this type of aircraft is now too old and therefore too costly to operate. 

Apart from them being fuel guzzlers, maintenance and insurance premiums won’t come cheap. 
But most importantly no feasibility study has supported the acquisition of such a huge aircraft. 
A feasibility study is the one that recommends appropriate capacities for specific routes. 

These studies are usually done for free by aircraft manufacturers, who if for example the research concludes that a smaller aircraft than they manufacture is more appropriate, they are so professional and won’t hesitate to make that admission.
What is sad about the B777 acquisitions is that the negotiators of the deal accepted the ‘minimum order quantity’ condition from the sellers, even without a feasibility study, which identified the routes and appropriate aircraft for those routes. 
They accepted to buy all the four that were on offer! They did not even consider that AirZim did not have the capacity both in terms of maintenance and crew to operate the aircraft. 
Building of such capacities is not only costly but takes time to achieve. 

Kenya Airways had B777 planes within their fleet but they disposed of all of them and replaced them with the B787 aircrafts, which are more modern and cost effective.
The Embraer ERJ145 which we are celebrating is now a very old aircraft and is longer in production-hence most airlines are discarding them. 

At one time they had flooded the market to the extent that it was possible to buy one for slightly over USD1 million (of course depending on the condition). 
It therefore stands to reason that some of the figures that are now being bandied around in the media are highly suspicious, more so given how clandestinely these aircraft were acquired. 

In AirZim’s case this type of aircraft may be very useful, but only as a stop gap measure. Any serious recapitalisation process should consider the issue of fleet diversity.  
The more diverse the airline’s fleet is, the more costly it would be to run such an airline. 

In the case of AirZim the ideal mix would be one type of aircraft for long-haul operations and another one for domestic and regional operations.  Currently they have the following types of aircraft on their books: Boeing 767, Boeing 737, Airbus A320, MA60 in addition to the new acquisitions. 
It is pertinent to note that each aircraft type will have a dedicated set of crew, different insurance premiums and whole lot of other cost considerations. 

It is also worth noting that none of the planes were acquired on the basis of a feasibility study done by management or any professional body for that matter, but through some kind of political process, only for the equipment to be dumped on management of the airline.

Stephen Jorum Jogodo (which is not real name) has over three decades of aviation experience.