Harare – Bad news for Zimbabwe’s national airline which is headed by President Robert Mugabe’s son-in-law: it has just has been barred from flying to Europe over safety concerns.
News of the ban, contained in a press release from the European Commission, will deal a blow to the struggling carrier’s plans to resume once-popular direct flights to London.
The European Commission maintains an Air Safety List of airlines that they say don’t meet international safety standards and are barred from operating in the European Union.
One of four banned
Tuesday’s statement names Air Zimbabwe – regularly used by Mugabe on his overseas trips – as one of four airlines added to the list “due to unaddressed safety deficiencies that were detected by the European Safety Agency”. All five of Air Zimbabwe’s planes were grounded in April, the Zimbabwe Independent reported. It’s not clear whether all five are now back in the skies.
London flights stopped
Debt-riddled Air Zimbabwe doesn’t currently offer flights to Europe. Flights to London were discontinued in 2012 after one of the airline’s Boeings was seized at Gatwick over an unpaid debt. These days passengers occasionally post updates of problems with internal Air Zimbabwe flights or flights connecting Zimbabwe to neighbouring South Africa. SA-based journalist Audrey Chimwanda at the weekend posted a photo of herself on an Air Zim flight from Joburg to Harare which had just four passengers (though two days later she reported that the return flight was “almost full”). There have also been claims of handwritten boarding passes.
Mugabe’s son-in-law Simba Chikore was last October given the position of Chief Operations Officer at the airline, with the former pilot tasked with helping to turn around the company’s fortunes. While critics said the appointment was a clear case of nepotism, officials maintained Chikore excelled during the interviews and hadn’t been favoured because of his links to the First Family.
Ban could be lifted
The commission’s statement said: “The EU Air Safety List seeks to ensure the highest level of air safety for Europeans citizens.” It said a total of 181 banned airlines from 16 countries should take heart from the case of Benin and Mozambique, whose airlines had their bans lifted on Tuesday.
“I am glad that we are able to take all carriers from Benin and Mozambique out of the air safety list. It shows that work and co-operation pays off,” commissioner for transport, Violeta Bulc was quoted as saying.
Fit for the president?
The British government has advised its staff against using Air Zimbabwe, according to an update on the British embassy in Harare’s website.
There’s been no official reaction yet from the Zimbabwean authorities to the European ban on Air Zimbabwe, though as former Chronicle editor Mduduzi Mathuthu (@mathuthu) tweeted: “In wake of EU ban we should be asking if Air Zimbabwe aircraft fit to be carrying any passengers, including President.”
It’s understood that a plane was leased from Bahrain for Mugabe in March.
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