THE International Air Transport Association (IATA) has demanded that Air Zimbabwe puts down a US$1,7 million deposit before it can be restored on its worldwide financial and flight booking service.
IATA suspended the cash-strapped airline earlier this month over a US$280,000 debt which the aviation control body insists must be paid, on top of the huge deposit – a penalty for defaulting.
On May 15, IATA told travel agents worldwide to "immediately stop all ticketing and refund transactions" for Air Zimbabwe after the crisis-hit airline failed to pay the debt for worldwide billing and ticketing fees.
The state-owned airline is still flying using only its own booking facilities, but it has suffered a sharp drop in bookings by passengers who are not Zimbabwean nationals.
Air Zimbabwe, which is sitting on a debt of over US$100 million, said bookings made through IATA-accredited travel agents accounted for nearly 80 percent of its international travellers.
But the airline’s push to be restored on the service suffered a major reversal when IATA imposed the latest penalty.
“We had raised the US$280,000 required by IATA and were ready to make a settlement when the bill shot up to nearly US$2 million, including the deposit,” the airline’s general manager for Europe David Mwenga revealed on Friday.
The setback means it could take Air Zimbabwe several more months before IATA gives the green light for travel agents to start making bookings for the debt-ridden carrier.
Mwenga said they continued to engage IATA, calling for understanding.
“We never defaulted before this incident, and we feel the deposit requirement is harsh,” said Mwenga, who blames the failure to pay on crippling month-long strikes by pilots which grounded the airline’s planes and decimated its revenues.
Air Zimbabwe’s troubles have snowballed into a major crisis, caused partly by aging planes which have put it at a disadvantage against regional and international competitors using newer equipment.
The airline was recently forced to ground three of its Boeing 737 which the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe said were unfit to fly.
Air Zimbabwe then took on a Zambezi Airways B737-500 on a long-term lease which is now servicing the regional routes previously plied by its grounded medium-range planes. Even that agreement nearly collapsed on May 18 when Air Zambezi withdrew its plane over a US$460,000 debt, which has now been settled.
The airline has two Boeing 767s which service the Harare-London and Harare-China routes. Its only other remaining aircraft is a Chinese-made MA60 turboprop. One other MA60 remains unserviceable, while another was damaged after hitting warthogs on the Harare runway and has been scrapped.