Cash strapped Air Zimbabwe buys Airbus planes
|Monday, 22 August 2011 16:16|
Air Zimbabwe has bought two new A340-200 Airbus passenger planes from France in a deal bankrolled by one of the mining firms licensed to mine at the controversial Marange diamond fields.
Mbada Diamonds, which has a joint venture with the state owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), financed the deal. It is expected to cost US$500 million.
The company's involvement, although a welcome relief for Air Zimbabwe, which was struggling to replace its ageing aircraft, is likely to fuel speculation that President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF is running a parallel structure since the money was not channeled through treasury.
Finance Minister Tendai Biti says diamond revenue from the Marange fields has not been accounted for and suspects Zanu PF appointees at ZMDC are abusing the money.
Last month ZMDC also provided money to increase salaries of civil servants without Biti’s knowledge.
Aviation sources said Eads, the French aircraft manufacturer was the supplier of the planes.
AirZimbabwe chairperson Jonathan Kadzura was reluctant to divulge details of the deal saying he would do so later this week.
“Mbada Diamonds are the financial muscle behind the planes deal as Air Zimbabwe is broke.
“However, the diamond company’s interest in the whole arrangement is still not clear” said an aviation source.
Air Zimbabwe which has an obsolete fleet of three Boeing 737-200 planes has not flown commercial flights since July 29 when the airline’s 49 pilots walked out over outstanding salaries and allowances.
Pilots earn between US$1200 and US$2 500 a month.
The troubled state-owned airline’s bosses say they need US$7 million to settle the dispute, but the government says it is too broke to help.
The strike, the second work stoppage this year, has disrupted the travel plans of thousands of people.
To prepare to take delivery of the new planes, the Air Zimbabwe's staff is undergoing training.
A team of pilots and air stewards was last week dispatched to Madrid, Spain for a month long intensive training on the new aircraft.
In July a team of pilots and stewards was dispatched to Toulouse, France, for training on the new aircraft.
The new aircraft will service Air Zimbabwe’s long-haul routes – mainly to China and the United Kingdom.