Harare, Zimbabwe - Troubled national airline, Air Zimbabwe, has been forced to suspend flights to Johannesburg amid reports that there are creditors waiting to attach the company’s aged planes.
Among the many creditors are Zimbabwean farmers who lost their land during the controversial land reform programme and a Germany bank.
The airline is struggling to pay off mounting debts totalling US$60 million. These include a huge wage and allowance bill owed to workers which resulted in several industrial actions last year, bringing the airline's operations to a halt.
On Tuesday the airline suspended all its fights to Johannesburg from Bulawayo, Harare and Victoria Falls. Passengers who were booked on the flights were transferred to Skylink Airways, British Airways and South African Airways.
Sources at Air Zimbabwe headquarters at the Harare International Airport told Radio VOP Wednesday that the Minister of Transport and Communications, Nicholas Goche travelled to South Africa to negotiate with the creditors.
“The Minister went to South Africa for negotiations and the management left on Tuesday and they both used South African Airways,” sources said.
However an official at Air Zimbabwe sought to down play the issue saying:“We no longer fly on daily basis to Johannesburg because of low business. It has been so bad and we have decided not to fly an empty plane,” said an official in the reservation department.
The Johannesburg routes are among the airline’s cash cow because of the huge volume of travellers on the route. Observers said the airline could have boosted its business particularly on the Bulawayo-Johannesburg route because of the recent halt by Fly Kumba which had been flying from Johannesburg to the country’s second city of Bulawayo.
The airline’s OR Tambo airport offices were on Tuesday closed and phones went unanswered.
Air Zimbabwe has a history of debts ranging from failure to pay salaries, operational costs such as fuel in foreign countries and surcharge costs. In 2008 it had to be bailed out by a local businessmen after British authorities threatened to attach a Boeing 767 for failing to pay 40 000 pounds in fuel costs.