By Maynard Manyowa
South Africa’s Civil Aviation Authority yesterday evening prevented a Harare bound Air Zimbabwe flight from taking off from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, as well as all other flights operated by the beleaguered airline.
While SACAA remained mum on the exact reasons for grounding the flight, as well as any other flights, Khuluma Afrika had it on good authority that the matter had something to do with ‘safety concerns’ and ‘compliance issues’.
Although SACAA or ACSA (Airports Company South Africa) are yet to provide an official statement, Khuluma Afrika has it on good authority that Air Zimbabwe’s Boeing 776 Flight UM462 was denied take off because Air Zimbabwe does not have a ‘Foreign Operators Permit’.
“The issue is a compliance issue. Air Zimbabwe did not meet certain requirements for them to take off from the airport.” a source within SACAA stated.
Although the FOP is mandatory, most airlines within the region operate without one, in some form of reciprocal understanding. In fact, South African Airways is reported to not have one themselves. (For Zimbabwe routes)
SAA operates a total of nine flights daily to three destinations in Zimbabwe. Although Khuluma cannot confirm this at the moment, we are made to understand that none of the SADC based countries have national airlines which meet this requirement, as such Air Zimbabwe did not have the license as well.
The move to ground the Air Zim flights will likely invoked retaliation from Zimbabwe based on grounds aforementioned.
This move will likely draw some of retaliatory action from Harare. Sources within Zimbabwe have already confirmed that if the ban is still effective in the morning, Zimbabwe will reciprocate the ban and demand similar requirements from all SAA flights.
Nonetheless, the developments will still be a further dent on Zimbabwe’s troubled airline, which boasts of a mean track record of safety issues.
SACAA is expected to issue a statement today.
Khuluma Afrika understands that Robert Mugabe arrived in a similar aircraft via Waterkloof Airbase, and that the grounding of the Air Zim jet is an act of hostility from Pretoria, which is incensed by Grace Mugabe’s actions.
Mrs Mugabe is at the center of a diplomatic storm after she assaulted a young woman and then proceeded to send ANC Ministers on wild goose chases before hiding behind immunity. The move, coupled with rumours of the Mugabe’s funding opposition parties in SA have dented relations between Harare and Pretoria.
Should Harare insist on banning SAA flights, Zimbabwe stands to lose millions from tourism revenue alone, while escalation to point of isolation would leave Zimbabwe out of fuel within 21 days.