Martin Kadzere Senior Reporter
A MALAYSIAN firm has cleared the release of two aircraft acquired by Air Zimbabwe, with delivery of the first one expected soon, a senior Government official has revealed.
Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister Joel Biggie Matiza told The Herald Finance & Business that a team led by his Permanent Secretary Engineer Amos Marawa, was already in the south Asian country to finalise the multi-million dollar deal.
The two Boeing 777-200 ER are part of the four the national airline intends to buy.
Last year, Government, the sole shareholder in AirZim, entered into an agreement to acquire aeroplanes from Malaysia for US$70 million, but has so far paid for two.
The national flag carrier, under reconstruction, could have taken the delivery of the planes a little bit earlier had the deal not been choked by administrative challenges.
“I sent a team to Malaysia headed by the permanent secretary to finalise the issue,” Minister Matiza said in an interview.
“He is there now. (The) two aircraft are done (and) one should be released as soon as possible.”
He said Air Zimbabwe was finalising few regulatory issues to start flying the Embraer ERJ145 purchased from the US. The plane was delivered in April this year and Air Zim is working on regulatory compliance issues.
The 50-seater jet has to go through the local registration process as well as all mandatory checks, tests and certification before it enters into service within, Air Zimbabwe said. The aircraft is expected to mostly service the local and regional routes.
Air Zimbabwe is struggling with a $380 million debt, including to foreign creditors, the bulk of which is to Government and Government-related institutions.
“(The Air Zim debt) is an impediment to investors because it’s heavily indebted. They (the administrators) are working on a programme . . . but they could also be other non-traditional ways,” said Minister.
Only one of Air Zimbabwe’s planes is operational.
Reports say the airline has old, big and economically unviable planes to service local and shorter regional routes and the coming in of the ERJ145 jet from America among other versions to come, will help reduce the firm’s operating costs and become profitable.
Air Zimbabwe has tabled a proposal for the disposal of redundant and obsolete equipment, which includes aircraft and spare parts for equipment, which is no longer in service.
It is among other State-owned companies that the Government intends to dispose of under a package of reforms in the Transitional Stabilisation Programme.
Zimbabwe also is selling its shares in telecommunications companies — NetOne and TelOne.
Improved air connectivity is critical at a time Zimbabwe is on the drive of attracting foreign direct investment as well as enhancing tourist arrivals.
Other regional airlines have taken advantage of improved tourist arrivals, particularly in Victoria Falls following the expansion of Victoria Falls International Airport to increase frequency.
Victoria Falls is one of the local destinations that is widely publicised by foreign travel agents with those in South Africa inviting tourists to come to the neighbouring country to enjoy one of the seven wonders of the world.
This has seen an influx of tourists into the country, but day visitors who return to spend the night in South Africa. Zimbabwe’s tourist arrivals have been increasing, but the figures have not been corresponding with the amount of foreign currency spent in hotels and lodges.