‘Mugabe pays Air Zim cash upfront’

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HARARE – Frequent flier President Robert Mugabe pays national airline Air Zimbabwe (Air Zim) cash upfront whenever he uses its planes, Transport minister Jorum Gumbo told the Daily News yesterday.


The 93-year-old leader travelled to the United States (US) over the weekend on an Air Zim plane, and according to Gumbo — whose ministry superintends over the ailing airline — “the president is a good customer”.


“Whenever the president is travelling, we charge him the same amount that we charge anyone else. The president is in fact our number one client because that is where we get our money, we only hire when there are problems with our planes and that can be found in different countries,” he said, adding that Mugabe “pays the money even before he leaves the country”.


The deepening rot at the struggling flag carrier was recently said to have triggered serious safety concerns among security chiefs and Zanu PF bigwigs — who were said to be  worried about the safety and security of the hired planes that Mugabe was now regularly using  for his official travels after Air Zim planes were grounded.


The debt-ridden national airline is barely managing to stay afloat, and to keep operating its creaky aircraft — a development which had lately forced, Mugabe, its single biggest customer, to hire private jets from overseas.


This also comes as Air Zim has been banned from flying into Europe over safety concerns — further complicating Mugabe’s frequent travel plans to international destinations which are not covered by the current travel restrictions on him.


However, Gumbo yesterday said the problems cited by EU were being sorted and there are no safety fears when Mugabe is travelling with the planes.


“We had banned our planes, this was after we had applied to resuscitate the London route, when they had applied they were told by the responsible authorities from that side that if you want to ply this route you must meet the conditions.


“When the team came here 12 areas where not conforming to what they wanted, and after some works our team went to Europe and they met 10 out of the 12 conditions that were required, it was discovered that we were manual and not computerised, but before we went to Europe, the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe had told us not to fly the planes until we had complied.


“There is no danger with flying Air Zimbabwe, of course there are some few problems but we will sort that out and our planes will be running before end of this month but that does not stop Air Zimbabwe to fly anywhere including America or Europe because he has immunity,” Gumbo told the Daily News.


Air Zim is said to be losing up to $3 million a month, in addition to being saddled with a $300 million declared debt. The extent of the rot devouring Air Zimbabwe was first exposed to the public in March when it was revealed that Mugabe was resorting to hiring private jets for his overseas travels, after it emerged that the poorly-performing national carrier had failed to service its planes.


As a result, Mugabe had to lease a private jet from Bahrain, which he used to travel to Singapore and Ghana then. Mugabe used the same plane during his second trip to Singapore and on his trip to Mexico last month where he was attending a climate conference last week.


Air Zim’s fleet comprises two Boeing 767s, three 737s, three MA60s and two Airbus A320s. However, only four of those are flying: one airbus, one Boeing 767, one 737 and an MA60.


The national carrier has over the past three decades struggled to shake-off claims of corruption and ineptitude, which has led to the dismissals of several of its boards and senior managers.

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