AIR ZIMBABWE is bracing for a high-stakes safety audit next week that will determine its readiness to resume international flights.
The struggling national carrier was suspended from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) sometime ago for failing to meet global safety standards.
Authorities say they are hoping to pass the test and start exploring international markets ahead of a scheduled re-launch next year.
“With IATA, we are being assessed next week and this will be a step in the right direction towards acquiring the airline’s market share,” said acting chief executive Innocent Mavhunga.
Air Zimbabwe’s afflictions came to a head last year when creditors impounding one of its aircraft at London’s Gatwick Airport, forcing officials to pull out of the company’s lucrative London route. Another plane was briefly seized in South Africa.
The government has since intervened and taken over the company’s crippling debt burden, ordering it to slash its oversized workforce and implement viable revival strategies.
Mavhunga says since resuming its regional flights three weeks ago, Air Zimbabwe has seized 70 percent of the Harare-Johannesburg route market share.
“We started at 10 percent market share three weeks ago and we are now at 70 percent,” he said. “We hope this will continue as we are running a promotion that will also shrug off competition from other airlines in the region.”
The company is reeling from a massive debt of more than US$140 million and it is under pressure to get its act together ahead of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) showcase to be co-hosted by Zimbabwe and Zambia next year.
Economist Prosper Chitambara commented that if properly restructured, Air Zimbabwe could reclaim its lost shine.
“There is consensus among the various stakeholders about need for restructuring,” Chitambara said, “and the manner of that restructuring is a matter of negotiation between the shareholders which are principally the government and company employees.”
The government is currently looking for a strategic partner for the beleaguered airline.
Chitambara said while he agreed that Air Zimbabwe has had better moments since its return, he had reservations about its 70 percent claims.
“Yes, I think they have regained some of their lost market share owing to their competitive fares, I understand they are charging $317 return fare from Harare to Johannesburg. And because of that, I think they have captured a significant share, but am not sure about the percentage they are touting,” he added.