One of Air Zimbabwe’s jets was impounded at London Gatwick airport Monday over unpaid debts, the latest in a series of serious problems confronting the troubled airline.
The plane held in London is a Boeing 767-200 known as Victoria Falls. It was seized by American General Supplies for debts over $1.2 million, according Air Zimbabwe sources speaking to Radio Voice of the People. The airline is scrambling to come up with the funds, because it is losing more money by having the plane out of service, reported Reuters.
Two weeks ago, a smaller plane, a Boeing 737-500, was confiscated by South Africa’s Bid Air Services over a $500,000 debt for ground handling services, reported The Zimbabwean. Passengers arriving on that impounded jet had to walk across the runway and had to wait seven hours for their bags, according to reports. That debt was reportedly settled but Air Zimbabwe has had to cut back its once daily flights to Johannesburg because of problems paying for fuel, according to AP.
State-owned Air Zimbabwe has had financial problems for years and many workers have not been paid for six months. President Robert Mugabe has been criticized for using Air Zimbabwe as his private carrier as he uses its planes to fly all over the world, including to Malasia, Hong Kong, Thailand, New York and Italy.
Air Zimbabwe board chairman Jonathan Kadzura confirmed the seizure of the planes but blamed the situation on the Ministry of Finance and the power-sharing government.
“From our part we are very clear that this issue is political and we are hoping that the Finance Minister Tendai Biti will be able to see what we mean when we say he should support the parastatal. Surely the government has the capacity to pay the outstanding US$1.2 million debt,” said Kadzura.
Biti, a member of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party, has refused to make unscheduled payments to Air Zimbabwe, until it presents a full accounting of its expenditures and a business plan to return to profitability.
More seizures are possible, warned others close to the airline.
Another international company, ASECNA has already secured a court ruling in France over which it could impound Air Zimbabwe's airplanes due to an overdue debt, while British Airport Transport and American General Supplies, a major supplier of aircraft spares to Air Zimbabwe, had warned that they could suspend services due to accumulating arrears.
Once rated as one of the best airlines in Africa, Air Zimbabwe has been run down due to successive years of mismanagement.