By Maynard Manyowa
South Africa’s Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has grounded all Air Zimbabwe Flights effective immediately according to reports. All Air Zimbabwe operated flights will not be allowed to land or take off through any airports within the country until certain requirements are met.
Tonight’s scheduled flight, due to take off at 18:55 was initially delayed, before being denied permission to take off altogether.
According to sources in Harare, Zimbabwe’s Civil Aviation Authority is expected to return the favour by banning all South African Airways flights into the country.
At present, SAA operates flights to Harare, Bulawayo and Victoria falls. All these flights would be affected.
At the time of writing, it remains unclear if President Robert Mugabe’s UM1 plane will be affected by the ban. Mugabe’s plane is chartered and operated by Air Zimbabwe.
Aviation experts have stated that it is improbable that Mugabe’s plane would be grounded as well, as it is not a scheduled flight nor a commercial plane, but a private charter.
“It may be like when CAAZ banned Fly Africa. Fly Africa chartered a plane to service all passengers who had paid tickets. Its not exactly the same, but with regards to the UM1 being a private charter, it probably means Mugabe will be fine”, a source within SACAA stated.
Air Zimbabwe is operated by Mugabe’s son in-law, Simba Chikore, who despite being the Chief Operations Officer, now runs the airline as a de facto owner. He recently spearheaded a project aimed at rescuing the airline, acquiring planes from Malaysia and renaming the airline Zimbabwe Airways.
It has been a case of the more things change the more things stay the same however. The airline has remained woeful.
This is not the first time the embattled national airline has been grounded. In April this year, the entire airline’s fleet was grounded. The entire fleet of five planes was deemed to be un-airworthy because of massive mechanical problems.
In 2012, one of the airline’s plane was seized at Gatwick International Airport in the UK.
In May this year, the airline was banned from flying to Europe altogether over safety concerns.
A move which was justified last month, when passengers were stuck inside the plane for 45 minutes in Harare, as exit doors refused to open. Engineers had to be called on scene to force open the doors and allow passengers to disembark.
Update: Sources have told us that the ban is a result of safety concerns and compliance issues from Air Zimbabwe. Source states that this is not related to Grace Mugabe’s diplomatic storm in the country. Should Air Zim meet requirements, they will be allowed to fly again.
- Maynard Manyowa is a journalist and co-editor of Khuluma Afrika – a center for investigative journalism and political analysis