AIR Zimbabwe is ready to soar after finally tying up deals for brand new Airbus A340-500 and A320-200 aircraft which will be put into service as early as October, New Zimbabwe.com can reveal.
The two planes were not acquired directly from Eads, the manufacturer, but through a third party, possibly another airline from an Asian country, aviation sources said.
The two aircraft don’t come cheap: a new Airbus A340-500 sells for US$261,8 million while an A320-200 costs much less at US$85 million. Financing for the deal is described by one source as “complicated”.
“There is no way the government or any other financier would pay cash for aircraft. It doesn’t happen anywhere in the world. So there would be some payment plan in place,” the source added.
Despite being on strike since July 29, close to a dozen Air Zimbabwe pilots agreed to undergo training on using the new aircraft in Madrid, Spain, two weeks ago. They were joined by hand-picked air stewards and engineers.
The airline, which has 49 pilots, would have trained more than half of them by the time the planes arrive. Other training sessions have been conducted in Hamburg, Germany, and Toulouse, France.
New Zimbabwe.com understands the short-haul A320-200 will be the first to be delivered by mid-September, with the A340-500 expected shortly after.
The A320, set to be used on domestic and regional routes, has a passenger capacity of 150 and a range of 5,000km (about 3,100 miles).
The A340, meanwhile, can carry 248 passengers and fly for 16,050km or 8,650 nautical miles without stopping. Air Zimbabwe, which already has two long-haul Boeing 767s, hopes to use the new plane on its cash-cow Harare-London route as well as the Harare-Malaysia-China route.
The troubled airline which is said to be sitting on a debt of more than US$100 million grounded its planes on July 29 after pilots walked out over a pay dispute.
On Tuesday, Air Zimbabwe officials said they were expecting a deal to be reached with the pilots, said to be owed US$7 million, by the weekend – although this would not be the first time hopes have been raised only to be dashed in the long-running dispute.
Among its many problems, the airline’s management have blamed old aircraft for failing to give it a competitive edge. With the new aircraft, the airline will match or better some of its rivals.
“The A340-500 is newest technology and added to the fact that Air Zimbabwe flies non-stop between Harare and London, the airline can expect to win back some of the travellers who have been opting to go through South Africa at great expense and inconvenience,” an aviation expert said.