Friday, December 16, 2011

Air Zimbabwe passengers stranded as airline runs out of money

More than 70 passengers have been stranded at Gatwick International Airport for nearly a week because Air Zimbabwe’s only long haul aircraft was grouned because the airline couldn't pay nearly £1m in bills.

Air Zimbabwe’s 767-200, named Victoria Falls, was seized by American General Supplies when it landed from Harare at Gatwick International Airport early on Monday.

That evening about 100 mostly Zimbabwean passengers checked in and then learned their flight was delayed. Some were given camp beds on which to sleep at Gatwick and next morning they learned the aircraft was seized via a US court injunction by American General Supplies for unpaid debt for spares of £966 000.

“We demanded proof that the debt had been paid and saw documentation suggesting a transfer of US$1 million (£644 000) was made which is less than the American company is claiming,” one passenger said on Thursday. “Departure is now supposed to be Monday night which is disgraceful,” said a Harare resident whose wife is stuck at Gatwick.

Air Zimbabwe’s London manager, David Mwenga had to flee Gatwick earlier this week as fuming Zimbabweans chased him when he was unable to provide a firm departure date.

Acting Air Zimbabwe chief executive, Innocent Mavhunga, meanwhile announced the airline had now suspended daily flights to Johannesburg.

"We are not flying into South Africa. We are trying to secure funding to pay our debts there,” he said.

Last week, a South African airport support services company, Bid Air, forced Air Zimbabwe to ground a plane in Johannesburg as it pressed for payment of a £320,000 debt.

Zimbabwe's economy has virtually collapsed in the years following the forced seizure of white-owned farms by President Robert Mugabe. The policy led to sharp falls in production, rampant inflation and food and fuel shortages.