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Troubled Air Zimbabwe Announces Turnaround Strategy


Air Zimbabwe, the failing national carrier, is to restructure its operations in a bid to regain viability.

The plan announced by Air Zimbabwe chairman Mike Bimha will see the airline split into five strategic business units to ensure better performance. It will also lay off 30 percent of the airline's employees.

Bimha is quoted in the state-controlled daily, The Herald, as saying staff levels had remained the same against the backdrop of a shrinking fleet and huge losses. He attributed he losses to a drastic drop in the number of passengers flying Air Zimbabwe.

But last week the newspaper quoted the airline's acting chief executive officer Oscar Madombwe as saying in 2005 it ferried less than a quarter of the million passengers who used it in 1999.

Air Zimbabwe's passenger fleet has dropped from more than 20 aircraft in the 1980s to less than 10. In the past few years the airline has had cash flow problems that have seen it temporarily suspended by the International Air Transport Association for non-payment of dues.

Last November, the airline ran out of jet fuel and failed to service its routes. The fuel problem persists and sometimes aircraft have to fly via Lilongwe in Malawi to refuel. Airline CEO Madombwe said this is expensive.

He also blamed the negative publicity about the political and economic situation in the country and the shortage of hard currency to buy equipment and new planes.

Madombwe said there is a perception that because the airlines planes are old, they are unsafe. Some of Air Zimbabwe's planes are more than 30 years old.

Madombwe pointed out that Air Zimbabwe has an excellent safety record. He said the fact it was not on the list of 93 airlines banned from European Union air space for safety reasons earlier this year confirms it is a safe airline.

But a regular Air Zimbabwe flier, speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity said delays and cancellations with little or no notice, rather than safety is the problem with the airline. He said while these problems also happened with other airlines, Air Zimbabwe has shown a certain disregard for its passengers.

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