Sunday, January 08, 2012

‘Air Zimbabwe refused to take advice’

TROUBLED Air Zimbabwe disregarded recommendations that would have resulted in the airline having a lean staff compliment after shedding 1 000 jobs in a restructuring exercise.

The revelations come at a time when the airline is sinking deeper into trouble with workers, embarking on an industrial action last week over unpaid salaries.

Air Zimbabwe last paid its employees six months ago and its flights have been on and off. Standardbusiness heard last week that Nicholas van Hoogstraten, who has over the years bailed out the airline with emergency funding, was approached by government four years ago to provide solutions on how the airline would be resuscitated.

Among his recommendations were to chop the labour force to 260 employees from 1 300. The airline would then get six new Boeing planes on a lease purchase basis and share Gatwick slots and routes with a strategic partner.

The arrangement would be similar to the one Kenya Airways has with KLM/Air France and Ethiopian Airlines has with British Midland/Lufthansa.

“Had my suggestions been implemented the airline would not be in the moribund state that it is today at great cost to the Exchequer (treasury) and to the image of the country,” van Hoogstraten said last week.

“Harare Airport and the infrastructure and facilities we have in Harare are far superior to those at Nairobi (Kenya) or Addis (Ethiopia). The demise of Air Zimbabwe is a disgraceful waste of a former valuable asset which is now beyond redemption.”
Van Hoogstraten said that there is no way that the airline could be rescued and that it has to be liquidated.

“It would be a total abuse of Exchequer money to give the airline more funding. No private investor will provide funding,” he said.

Events at the airline have led to experts arguing that only the liquidation of the airline is the best option.

An expert said: “The idea is to liquidate the company, form another airline with slightly a leaner staff. “At the moment no turnaround will happen when the airline has over 1 000 employees. Doing what in the first place?”

Van Hoogstraten, who claimed that he is known in the UK as the “Lender of Last Resort” as he could come up with substantial sums of money at short notice, said all the loans he made to the airline were interest-free.

The businessman said his association with the airline came when he was contacted by senior officials at Air Zimbabwe when they needed emergency funding.

The contact person was normally the airline’s head of station in the UK. Did the airline managed to repay the loans? “Yes, but on a couple of occasions I needed to go higher up the tree in order to recover my money,” he said.

Air Zimbabwe has over the years been seriously affected by mismanagement and government interference. It has also recorded a high turnover of CEOs, meaning that there hasn’t been any continuity.

At the same time, the airline has crafted a number of turnaround strategies, but at the end of the day printing would fade on the various blueprints.

There have been suggestions that the airline embraces a technical partner, but analysts warned that no serious airline would take Air Zimbabwe on board.

Shut down Air Zimbabwe immediately: MDC-T

Last month MDC-T National Council resolved after a meeting that Air Zimbabwe Private Limited, as it is defined right now, should be shut down immediately.

It also resolved that a new Zimbabwe airline that partners with a foreign investor should be formed that will take over the whole staff at Air Zimbabwe and that tax payers money should not be used to fund “any corrupt and unsustainable parastatals”.


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