Struggling Air Zimbabwe's pilots went on strike Wednesday over pay and conditions of service. Many long serving employees of Air Zimbabwe say they can not remember when, if ever, the airline's pilots have gone on strike.
Air Zimbabwe pilots have been complaining for several years about their pay. A member of Air Zimbabwe's technical staff , speaking on condition he was not named, said many of the approximately 40 pilots working for the government's airline, are grossly underpaid.
The technical staffer said the pilots' salaries are also far below that of other regional airlines. He said many pilots are each owed tens of thousands of dollars in back pay.
Some of the pilots have complained to management that they are concerned about Air Zimbabwe's old equipment and lack of facilities for proper rest for pilots between long haul flights, particularly to and from the Far East.
Air Zimbabwe flies internally as well as to several regional destinations. Its most lucrative route is to the United Kingdom's Gatwick Airport as Air Zimbabwe's flights are cheaper than other airlines which all now fly to London via Johannesburg.
Air Zimbabwe is the only direct flight from Harare to London.
Its far East route is not as popular as President Robert Mugabe would have liked, according to regular passengers on the route to Shanghai via Singapore and Dubai.
Mr. Mugabe announced Zimbabwe's Look East policy seven years ago because of European Union and United States sanctions policy against himself and about 200 of his top colleagues in the Zanu PF political party, and about 30 companies associated with the party.
There is normal trade between the U.S. and EU and Zimbabwe, but several top businessmen say the sanctions still hurt some Zimbabwe companies.
Air Zimbabwe has aging aircraft including two Boeing 767 passenger jets, three Boeing 737's and one small Chinese plane for the domestic routes and to Johannesburg.
Air Zimbabwe has an impeccable safety record but has, like every other government company or agency, been short of money for the last decade.
Travellers flying Air Zimbabwe have to pay cash for their tickets.
The technical source says that many of the top pilots and engineering staff have left Air Zimbabwe in recent years citing poor pay and working conditions and lack of opportunity especially for the handful of remaining white staff members.
Air Zimbabwe in London has told passengers due to fly out of Gatwick Tuesday their flight has been postponed to Friday.
It is not clear yet whether the strike will be resolved by Friday.