The scramble for the skies and the need for Air Zim to up the game

Jun 05, 2017

By Freedom Mupanedemo

A NATIONAL flag is sacrosanct and sanctified! Donning the sacred national flag, those elegant colours, yellow, green white, red and the golden Zimbabwe bird – all emblazoned on a huge Boeing metal bird, is a perfect symbol of nationhood that should make every Zimbabwean proud.

That’s Air Zimbabwe for you! So beautiful in its distinctive national colours that even the President, with no presidential jet, so loves to charter the national airline whenever embarking on a foreign trip.

But like many national airlines, Air Zimbabwe is saddled with a huge debt and other viability challenges that need urgent address for it to remain afloat.

As of last year, the national carrier’s debt had ballooned to over $300 million, prompting authorities to send an SOS to government seeking financial assistance.

“The position remains that government has no money at the moment and Air Zimbabwe continues to struggle like any other organisation in the country.

“Air Zimbabwe needs recapitalisation and government is looking for a partner. If we can’t get a partner we should get money to revive it on its own,” Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister Joram Gumbo told Parliament late last year.

The world over, national airlines are in a perilous state and their respective governments are often forced to chip in to bail them out.

In 2015, the South African government had to chip in with over R20 million financial assistance to its national carrier, South African Airways (SAA). The same happened in Nambia in recent years when the government came under fire from some miffed tax payers after it committed over N$1 billion towards the revival of Air Namibia.

But despite all the distressed calls, Air Zimbabwe is yet to get government intervention. The national carrier has, however, continued to operate albeit under a harsh and highly competitive playing field.

Zimbabwe is increasingly retaining its tourism hub status and with the commissioning of a new look state-of-the-art Victoria Falls International Airport, there has been a scramble for Zimbabwe’s air space with a host of airlines flying into the country.

According to statistics from the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ), about 20 airlines fly into Zimbabwe while several others have applied to ply the Zimbabwean route. At its peak in 1998 Zimbabwe had 48 airlines plying the route.

The growing list of airlines flying into Zimbabwe include Africa’s largest airline, Ethiopian Airways which launched its B737-800 New Generation with sky interior aircraft early last month.

Planes touching the Zimbabwean ground are South African Airways, Kenyan Airways, Air Botswana, British Airways operated by Comair, Air Namibia, South African Airlink, Angola’s TAAG, Emirates, Zambezi Airlines and Fly Africa, among others.

Zimbabwe Tourism Authority chief executive, Karikoga Kaseke said Rwanda Air was the latest to ply the route while Turkish Airlines were also keen to fly the Zimbabwean route.

“Turkish Airlines have also registered interest in this destination and we hope they will also get their permit soon,” Kaseke told New Ziana recently.

While the coming in of the many new airlines in the country is good for Zimbabwe’s tourism economy, the scramble for Zimbabwe’s airspace also presents a tough competition to the national carrier.

What Air Zimbabwe needs to do is to devise strategies to fit in the equation as well as crafting a business plan to survive under such a competitive environment.

It has to up its game to remain in the business. But like any other national carriers, there is need for government to hunt for a partner or avail funds to keep the national carrier afloat.

According to an Oxford Management Policy Development by economist, Lee Conway, challenges facing the African aviation industry range from strong state protectionism, lack of an enabling environment for new investors, high taxes and charges (above comparative world averages), a poor safety record due to ageing fleet and insufficient regulatory supervision.

He further states that a lot of air transport infrastructure across the continent is in need of upgrade.

So, Air Zimbabwe has to urgently improve in all facets for it to continue taking the Zimbabwe flag to all corners of the world.

“Another key problem (facing African airlines) is a lack of competition, which contributes to high fares. Although in some cases low passenger volumes may create natural monopolies, in many countries competition is artificially restricted by making it difficult for foreign airlines to access certain routes, in order for governments to support their own national carriers,” argued Conway.

Air Zimbabwe should thus take this opportunity when every airline is keen to fly into the country as a business opportunity for them to improve its brand than it being a set-back in their quest for survival. – Zimpapers Syndication.

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June 2017
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