From Zimbabwe Independent By Wongai Zhangazha
THE Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development plans to buy three Embraer ERJ145 aircraft for Air Zimbabwe at a cost of US$6 million and lease two other similar aircraft which will ply routes in southern Africa as part of a 100-day work plan approved by cabinet, the Zimbabwe Independent has learnt.
After taking over the reins of power last month, President Emmerson Mnangagwa tasked every minister to come up with at least three specific and measurable economic projects with a 100-day turnaround period.
His first 100-day timeline has seen ministers sweat to come up with action plans, as the Zanu PF government is under immense pressure to deliver to the electorate ahead of crucial elections this year.
According to documents seen by this newspaper, the Transport Ministry, run by Joram Gumbo intends to buy three second-hand Embraer ERJ145 at a cost of US$6 million in order to increase its fleet and frequency of flights, as well as improve service delivery. The money is expected to come from “internal resources”.
Information on different websites show that a brand new ERJ145 ranges from US$16 million to US$22 million.
An Embraer ERJ145 by Embraer, a Brazilian aerospace company, is a twin-engine regional airliner, capable of flying up to 50 passengers in a three abreast seating configuration.
The official documents also state that the acquisition of the fleet intends “to provide increased trade and tourism facilitation, improved customer satisfaction and improved airline viability.”
In a recent interview with the Independent, Gumbo said his ministry is seized with turning around the Air Zimbabwe fortunes.
“I inherited a national airliner which had legacy debts and grounded equipment. All efforts are now being made to service local routes, as we seek more equipment for the long haul routes,” Gumbo said.
The ministry also intends to lease two ERJ145 planes to achieve enhanced route network and increased frequencies.
The idea will also be to increase trade and tourism facilitation, improve airline viability and customer satisfaction.
According to a website, Paramount Business Jets, the average price of leasing ERJ145 is US$7000 per hour.
Sources at the Transport Ministry said feasibility studies were underway for the opening up of new regional routes in Sadc at a cost of US$500 000.
The document also says, “the aim of opening up new regional routes is to increase visibility of Air Zimbabwe, foreign currency generation, enhanced route network, improved connectivity and facilitation of Sadc trade, tourism and regional integration.”
The sources said the set up costs would be funded from internal resources and route operating costs to be funded from project revenues.
In July last year, cabinet approved the takeover of Air Zimbabwe’s US$334 million debt as part of grand efforts to clean its balance sheet and resuscitate its operations.
According to media reports, estimations are that Air Zimbabwe’s passenger numbers have gone down to about 230 000 per annum in the past few years, from a peak of one million in 1996. Travellers have been looking for alternative airlines for domestic and regional destinations.
The national airline is still in the doldrums and incurring losses.
In 2011, Air Zimbabwe’s Boeing 737-500 was impounded in South Africa after failing to settle a US$500 000 debt owed to Bid Air Services for ground handling services.
The Boeing 767-200 was also seized by American General Supplies in London over a US$1,2 million debt in the same year. In 1980, Air Zimbabwe had a fleet of 18 planes, but 37 years later, they are four, according to its website.