Fly Africa takes to the skies

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HARARE – Low-cost airline Fly Africa Zimbabwe (Fly Africa) has resumed operations after an 18-month hiatus after the company was acquired by a local firm, Mugwagwa Resources. Our deputy business editor, Ndakaziva Majaka spoke to Fly Africa executive chairperson, Cassidy Mugwagwa, about the airline’s operations. Below are excerpts of the interview.


Q: Fly Africa has not been operating for quite some time now and passengers are wondering if everything is in place and you have enough equipment to resume operations. How many planes do you have?


A: We have got access to seven aeroplanes.


Q: Are they on a lease or you have bought them?


A: We are currently purchasing. We are in negotiations to purchase new aircraft starting with two that we are purchasing.


Q: Are you at liberty to disclose the source from which you are purchasing the aeroplanes?


A: The first two that we are buying are second hand. They are presently undergoing pre-delivery maintenance at Lufthansa in Germany. They are two Boeing 737 700 aircrafts.


Q: Fly Africa’s former shareholders submitted the airline’s Airline operator Certificate (AOC), does the carrier have adequate regulatory and compliance papers?


A: There is not a single certificate or flight licence that we do not have… We were granted our AOC two weeks ago… Before that we were given our government’s thumbs up to fly, via what they call an Air Service Permit from the Transport ministry and then from there the Civil Aviation Authority granted us our new AOC.


Q: Which routes are you targeting?


A: We are renewing what was there. When we start to fly we are going to be doing domestic flights in what is called the Zimbabwe Triangle, which is Harare – Victoria Falls – Bulawayo and back the same way daily for a month or so, while our technical people get back into the business of things. A month later, we will then start with the regional flights to Johannesburg and then looking onwards to Gaborone and Lusaka.


Q: The aviation environment has changed since the last time the carrier was flying, how do you plan on tackling increased competition?


A: Fly Africa does not have competition, unless I am mistaken. What is happening is that we are not there to compete. I understand Air Zimbabwe’s challenges. I understand Fastjet’s challenges and I also understand Rainbow’s challenges. The government to government agreement between South Africa and Zimbabwe now allows for a 100 frequencies each side of the border. We have renewed the frequencies that were there before and we are going to be taking to the skies and doing what was there before. We will then expand as we go.


Q: Do you understand what went wrong when Fly Africa went into hiatus 18 months ago?


A: I do not know. I have never met the previous shareholders and whoever was here. I answered what is called by the court a default call option. The company was on its knees, workers exposed and it was advertised that someone should take it up. So, I myself through my company we took up the challenge and we end up were we are now. I took over the business from an arm’s length and my lawyers undertook the deal on my behalf.


Q:  Following your takeover, is the airline compliant with the country’s indigenisation laws?


A: Fly Africa is 100 percent owned by Zimbabweans. The whole thing world-wide, we even own the name Fly Africa. The group in South Africa went into liquidation and we let them go into liquidation, we were only interested in the local entity because it is only the local entity that was licensed to fly. The rest were just set up dummy companies in anticipation of growth.


Q:  Are you at liberty to disclose the new shareholding structure?


A: My name is Cassidy Mugwagwa, my family and I own Mugwagwa Holdings — a private business that now owns Fly Africa. The vehicle that was used to take over Fly Africa business is called Low Cost Enterprises. It is just a holding concern, just where all the shares are housed. Low Cost Enterprises is my business and that is the business used to house over these businesses. This includes Nu Aero, trading as Fly Africa Zimbabwe Limited and there is also a company called Air Connect, I took over. It is this company that owned the name Fly Africa, and that was my stimulus to buy the owner over.


Q: How much has been invested in the airline so far?


A: We are about $6,6 million in.


Q: For the past few years some airlines have threatened to take to the skies but are yet to do so, what makes Fly Africa different from these?


A: The thing is the planes are being branded and balanced in South Africa. We are just holding back because there is some money that is yet to get to one of the suppliers. Unlike other players, our plane was actually delivered to Harare in April. Everyone was here and we even had a demonstration flight. We have also refurbished the airport and our properties. We are here to stay. We already have an office in Borrowdale and Avondale is going up as well, Meikles in town, Machipisa, Roadport and Westgate as well. What you need to understand about Fly Africa is that they did not fail as a business; they just had a shareholder dispute.


Q: What did you do about the company’s existing employees?


A: We have offered them their old contracts back. Of course some had moved on and what not, but those who were happy with their contracts took up the offer.

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