HARARE – Debt-ridden national airline Air Zimbabwe has finally appointed a new chief executive officer, about five years after the departure of former CEO Peter Chikumba.
Ripton Muzenda, son of Zimbabwe’s first Vice President the late Simon Muzenda, assumed duty yesterday, with the Air Zimbabwe board announcing that it expected him to bring growth and development to the airline.
Muzenda, who has been a pilot for more than 25 years, previously held the posts of senior training captain and examiner at Air Zimbabwe before leaving for Singapore Airlines where he became a Boeing 747-400 captain and held other management positions.
He holds a Master degree in Business Administration in aviation management and other qualifications relevant to his profession.
“The board has confidence that Captain Muzenda comes with a strong vision and belief that the airline can make a positive contribution to the nation’s economic growth and development,” the board announced in a statement Tuesday.
Air Zimbabwe’s debt stands at more than $188 million and efforts to secure a strategic partner to steer it on a growth path have so far been fruitless.
The airline has had financial problems since 2003, culminating in cancellation of operations in 2005 before resumption on a bigger scale in Feb. 2013.
With passenger numbers falling from 1 million in 1999 to 23 000 in 2005, Muzenda has a herculean task trying to bring the airline back to its glory days when it used to scoop various international awards of excellence.
Plans to reopen all closed routes and expand into West Africa have also been afoot for a while but have been weighed down by the financial challenges.
During its heyday in the 1990s, the airline plied about 25 routes locally, regionally and internationally.
The routes included the United Kingdom, Cyprus, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Kenya, Zambia, Malawi, South Africa and Swaziland, with the Harare-London route being the most lucrative.
These flights were complimented by about 45 international airlines that landed at Harare International Airport.
The airline re-opened in earnest two years ago with limited domestic and regional flights to Johannesburg, South Africa, using a depleted and ageing aircraft fleet of seven.
The expanded routes are Harare-Johannesburg, Johannesburg-Bulawayo, Harare-Bulawayo, Harare-Victoria Falls, Victoria Falls-Johannesburg and Harare-Lusaka. Recently, it added another route to Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania.