Zimbabwe launches a second state-owned airline
The first one is so indebted its planes are impounded when they land abroad. Will the second be any better?
HAVING one loss-making state-owned airline is bad enough. What, then, of a government that wants two?
Earlier this year Zimbabweans were startled to learn that the government had concluded a secret $70m deal to buy four second-hand Boeing jets from Malaysia to form the core of a new national airline, Zimbabwe Airways. This venture is supposed to compete with Air Zimbabwe, the flag carrier, which ran up huge debts thanks to poor management and ex-President Robert Mugabe’s habit of commandeering its planes so his wife could shop abroad.
The government hopes to stimulate tourism and business by reopening long-haul routes that are closed to Air Zimbabwe, whose planes can be impounded as soon as they land on foreign runways. It suspended flights to London’s Gatwick airport in 2011, for instance, after one of its planes was seized over an unpaid debt. It has since been banned from European skies because of concerns over the safety of its creaking planes.
Critics questioned the secrecy and the price paid for the new planes. The government had claimed for months that the new airline was a private initiative, funded by Zimbabwean investors living abroad. Joram Gumbo, the transport minister, told local newspapers it had been necessary to lie because “if they had been exposed as government of Zimbabwe planes, they would have been taken by the creditors who were claiming for money.” He also revealed that “the man in charge of Zimbabwe Airways” is Mr Mugabe’s son-in-law.
Officials see the new airline as a panacea for the economy. That seems unlikely. It will be pitted against rivals offering reliable connecting services via their hubs in South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates. Airlines based in those countries have the upper hand on numerous fronts, among them economies of scale, network synergies and more frequent flights. Zimbabwe Airways will have only one advantage: the ability to fly between Harare, the capital, and destinations in Europe and Asia without boring stopovers. Yet there is probably not nearly enough direct traffic to fill its planes.
Read more at: The Economist