Air Zimbabwe loses global safety rating

(161118) -- VICTORIA FALLS (ZIMBABWE), Nov. 18, 2016 (Xinhua) -- An Air Zimbabwe airplane is seen on the runway of Victoria Falls International Airport in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, on Nov. 18, 2016. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Friday commissioned the upgraded Victoria Falls International Airport that was built with support from China. (Xinhua/Chen Yaqin)

Air Zimbabwe, a troubled state-owned carrier which is reeling under debts amounting to $300 million, has been de-registered from the global aviation safety registry after failing to comply with minimum acceptable standards of safety, efficiency and quality.

By Brezhnev Malaba

The safety rating downgrade means the airline has suffered a major dent in its credibility and is now considered an unsafe aircraft operator after violating International Air Transport Association (Iata) Operational Safety Audits (Iosa).

Air Zimbabwe’s plan to engage a turnaround strategic partner has been thrown into disarray. Last month, the government of Zimbabwe gave the flag carrier the green light to seek partners willing to invest in a company that enjoys a monopoly on domestic routes.

Ripton Muzenda, the airline’s newly appointed chief executive officer, blamed the previous management for not complying with the safety regulations.

“Although the Iata audit programme is purely voluntary, Air Zimbabwe has been Iosa-certified since 2008. A renewal audit was due in February this year. Unfortunately there was laxity in the previous management who simply did not have the diligence to follow through with the audit. The airline stopped communicating with the auditors until the audit renewal date lapsed in June this year,” Muzenda said.

He said Air Zimbabwe is currently recruiting managers who have the capability to turn the airline around.

“No effort will be spared to make Air Zimbabwe into a world-class airline. The airline has a great safety record and fully intends to uphold the highest safety standards,” Muzenda added.

According to Iata, only 63 airlines in Africa and the Middle East, excluding Air Zimbabwe, are compliant with the minimum Iosa safety standards.

Iata’s safety and operational audits are carried out bi-annually. The safety audit is an international benchmark for global safety management in airlines. All Iata members are registered and must remain registered in order to retain membership.

The total accident rate for Iosa carriers between 2011 and 2015 was 3,3 times lower than the rate for non-Iosa operators, according to the organisation. As such, Iosa has become a global standard, recognised well beyond Iata membership.

Official figures show that as of March 2015, 145 of the 405 airlines (36%) on the Iosa registry were non-Iata member airlines.

Iata concluded an audit into Air Zimbabwe’s safety compliance in April with officials from the international aviation organisation completing a week-long assessment.

Iata is a global aviation body that works with airlines and the air transport industry to promote safe, reliable, secure and economical travel.

In 2012, Air Zimbabwe was de-registered from the Iata Operational Safety Audit registry after the airline had temporarily discontinued operations and failed to conduct the safety compliance audits which must be carried out every two years. The airline was readmitted to the Iata Operational Safety Audit in 2013 after complying with the aviation body’s minimum standards.

Air Zimbabwe is currently plying the Harare-Bulawayo and Harare-Bulawayo-Victoria Falls routes. In southern Africa, the airline services the Harare-Johannesburg, Johannesburg-Bulawayo and Victoria Falls-Johannesburg routes.

In 2011, Air Zimbabwe’s Boeing 737-500 was impounded in South Africa after the airline failed to settle a $500 000 debt owed to Bid Air Services for ground handling services.

Its largest aircraft, a Boeing 767-200, was seized by American General Supplies in London over a $1,2 million debt in the same year. The plane was later released after the airline paid the debt, but Air Zimbabwe immediately stopped flying to London, one of its most lucrative routes. – Africa Independent

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