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Zimbabwe's National Airline Defaults

A man poses with a copy of a newspaper containing an advert by airline company Ryanair, which used a photograph of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe to illustrate its comparison of rival easyJet's punctuality with that of Air Zimbabwe, in London (File Ph

Zimbabwe’s national airline has been suspended from the International Air Transport Association for failing to pay its dues. Air Zimbabwe, one of Africa’s oldest airlines, has other major financial and operational difficulties.

Top executives at Air Zimbabwe say they are trying to find about $280,000 from the government to pay the International Air Transport Association so it can resume foreign bookings.

The International Air Transport Association has ordered international travel agents to refund foreign travelers with bookings placed with Air Zimbabwe.

The airline, founded 47 years ago, has suffered several strikes this year when pilots refused to work until they were paid what they said were outstanding allowances.

Several privately owned Zimbabwean newspapers have recently reported Air Zimbabwe is massively overstaffed for its small fleet of aircraft.

The airline says its most profitable flight is its twice-weekly Harare to London run, as the airline is the only one in Zimbabwe flying directly to Britain. Most other major airlines pulled out of Zimbabwe under the former ZANU-PF government.

Air Zimbabwe chairman Jonathan Kadzura said recently the pilots’ strike had hammered Air Zimbabwe’s liquidity.

Earlier this year, when President Robert Mugabe regularly travelled to Asia for medical treatment, striking pilots were ordered to fly the 87-year-old leader on a charter Air Zimbabwe flight to Johannesburg to catch a connection to Singapore. Mugabe, unlike his colleagues in government, shuns medical treatment in Zimbabwe or South Africa.

The Air Zimbabwe board said recently it needs to upgrade the small national fleet, but did not have sufficient funds to do so. Many economic analysts in Zimbabwe say that the airline is a financial drain on the economy and should be privatized.

Air Zimbabwe officials in Harare and London say many travelers lost confidence in the airline’s reliability after the pilots' strike.

But since Zimbabwe's unity government came to power 27 months ago, tourism has revived and many foreign tourists travelled to and around the country with Air Zimbabwe.

The airline continues to operate locally and with its Johannesburg to Harare flights.

Zimbabwe struggles to raise foreign loans to repair infrastructure devastated under Mugabe’s rule, before the unity government was formed. Finance Minister Tendai Biti has said that Zimbabwe has a cash economy, and that he has to run the country on tax revenues, which have slowed this year.

The Zimbabwean government is unable to access loans from the International Monetary Fund because it is in arrears and because of U.S. and European sanctions imposed in 2002 after violent elections.