THE country’s troubled flag carrier, Air Zimbabwe has been forced to cancel regional and domestic flights after its aircraft was grounded while one plane was seized over an unpaid debt.
Air Zimbabwe announced last month that it had leased a Boeing 737-500 from Zambia-based Zambezi Airlines as part of a fleet modernisation programme but the plane has since been withdrawn over a $460,000 unpaid debt.
"Yes, there have been problems with Zambezi Airlines, but we are negotiating with our partners," acting chief executive Innocent Mavhunga said. "Only regional flights have been affected."
The development also comes at a time the airline has been suspended from international financial and flight booking services by world aviation control body, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) over a US$280,000 debt.
IATA spokesman Chris Goater said Air Zimbabwe would not be able to sell tickets through local or foreign travel agents until the debt is settled.
"We hope that it will clear its financial obligations to return to participation in IATA's financial systems in short order," he said.
Again the domestic civil aviation authority (CAAZ) grounded the airline’s three B737-200 planes because they have passed their 20-year design life-span.
But officials from the aircraft’s US-based manufacturer, Boeing have reportedly indicated that the planes -- which all have an average 30 000 flight cycles and over 31 000-flight hours -- could still choke up another 66 000 flight cycles.
"Air Zimbabwe's fleet is some of the later 737-200s manufactured … The anticipated limit of validity for the Boeing 737-200 is well above the current hours and cycles on the (Air Zimbabwe) fleet,” a Boeing official wrote to Air Zimbabwe.
However, CAAZ has expressed concern over Air Zimbabwe’s maintenance regime.
"The airline has failed to demonstrate that they have a current, updated pool of spare parts sufficient to support an evidently demanding aging fleet of airplanes such as the B737s,” CAAZ general manager David Chawota noted in a latter to the transport ministry.
"There is evidence of robbing spares from one B737 to another and mostly from the ground aircraft. This has, often times, resulted in a fleet wide cross contamination of defective systems and components. One defect would appear on all B737 over a period of time, one aircraft after another."
Chiwota warned that there was a real risk of catastrophic failure from age-related defects that affect key components and systems.
"Of even greater concern are fatigue cracks that may develop. These weaknesses in the airframe structure, if left undetected and unrepaired, may lead to catastrophic failure of critical structural members and even disintegration of aircraft in flight," Chiwota said.