AIR Zimbabwe lurched into a new crisis on Tuesday after one of its planes was seized over a US$460,000 debt, forcing the airline to cancel all regional flights.
The Zambia-based Zambezi Airlines withdrew its Boeing 737-500 which it made available to Air Zimbabwe on a long-term lease in March this year.
The plane reportedly flew into Harare on a scheduled flight on Monday night, but it immediately turned back -- throwing the airline's schedule into disarray.
The action came just days after the International Air Transit Association (IATA) ordered its 60,000 accredited travel agents to stop making bookings for the beleaguered airline over a US$280,000 debt.
The loss of the plane leaves the airline flying only one route between Harare and London, in addition to its two domestic routes, chief executive Innocent Mavhunga told AFP.
"Yes, there have been problems with Zambezi Airlines, but we are negotiating with our partners," Mavhunga said. "Only regional regional flights have been affected."
Air Zimbabwe leased the Boeing 737 to fly domestic and regional routes after withdrawing its three 737s which are undergoing major service.
The struggling airline, which reportedly paid a US$1,8 million deposit in March as part of the plane’s lease agreement, was this week also facing pressure from hundreds of workers who have not been paid their April salaries.
The state-owned airline's problems have built up over the last decade owing to mismanagement, ageing planes and delays in changing the airline’s ticketing policy from the worthless Zimbabwe dollar to the multi-currency system now in use since 2009.
The Zimbabwe government’s failure to acquire new planes, say airline bosses, has given the advantage to its competitors.
The airline, said to be making a US$3 million loss every month, was brought to its knees in September last year after pilots went on a two-week strike. A second walkout in March this year lasted a month.
A senior manager at the airline said last night: “The strike last September was catastrophic for the already struggling company. We have been playing catch-up since, and the second strike this year made that job doubly difficult.”
Transport Minister Nicholas Goche is said to be out of the country. Weekend reports said he was planning to appoint a new board and management team at the airline.