AIR ZIMBABWE has said its recently acquired Airbus aircraft will go into service in the new year as the troubled airline looks to revive its flagging operations.
Management says acquisition of the Airbus A320 aircraft, which are being kept at the company's Harare International Airport hangers, is part of a plan to modernise its ageing fleet.
Acting chief executive Innocent Mavhunga said the aircraft would service the airline’s regional routes.
“We have two A320 airbuses, which are meant for regional routes since they cannot do long hauls," Mahunga told state media at the weekend.
"We will be announcing by mid-December when they will be taking to the skies, but it is most probably going to be in January.”
Air Zimbabwe is battling a mountain of debt estimated at more than US$140 million and was last year forced to pull out of the lucrative London route after its aircraft was seized by creditors.
The state-owned airline which has been offering a truncated domestic service recently resumed flights to South Africa where another plane was also attached last December over debts.
Mavhunga said the addition of the Airbus aircraft would help put the airline on the path to recovery at a time competition has also increased with the return to Zimbabwe of several global carriers and other regional airlines.
“This (acquisition of new aircraft) is a boost to the current fleet. But our major endeavour is to return to the international scene. As we speak, an Air Zimbabwe team is in Maputo to finalise on the code sharing deal with LAM and we will have the full details once there are back,” he said.
The airline has also been readmitted to the global reservations system after being kicked out some six months ago for failing to pay membership and related fees.
“The airline is now visible and accessible online and can be booked worldwide in all countries that we have Central Reservation Systems (CRS) and Global Distribution Systems (GDS) agreement,” the company’s spokesperson Shingai Taruvinga said.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) has also announced plans to help the airline regain its place on regional routes such as Harare-Johannesburg after losing ground to rivals such as South African Airways.
ZTA boss Karikoga Kaseke said Air Zimbabwe’s international reputation had taken a battering adding the airline should concentrate on becoming competitive and winning back the confidence of the travelling public
“It is critical that the brand is regained and that Air Zimbabwe returns to become a competitive airliner. There is no brand to talk at the moment; it was lost some ten years ago so what we are now trying to do is to regain that brand which we lost over a period spanning ten years,” Kaseke said.
“It will take some time for the airline to regain their brand and the confidence of the travellers is what is now needed most.
“Everywhere the airline was flying its brand has been battered; the travelling public has lost faith in the airline even in the traditional routes such as China and the UK.
“So this confidence building initiative will take some time, give them 3-4 months, but what is needed most is for the government to chip in.”
The government has since agreed to take over the airline’s debt but wants the company to trim its bloated workforce as part of measures aimed at helping return the company to viability.
Efforts to bring on board technical partners from China ha however proved unsuccessful to date with Transport Minister Nicholas Goche conceding that the airline’s image problems and massive debts were putting off potential investors.