via Bulawayo24 NEWS | Solenta withdraws its aircraft from Air Zimbabwe by Pamela Shumba 20 March 2014
AIR Zimbabwe has increased its fares following the withdrawal of the 50-seater Embraer ERJ 145 LR that was leased to the national airline by Solenta Aviation Limited.
The airline used to service local routes between Bulawayo-Harare-Victoria Falls as well as the Bulawayo-Johannesburg route.
Local trips that were pegged at $150 have risen to $190 for the economy class starting last Sunday. The fares now range between $190 and $342 for a return ticket between Harare and Bulawayo.
According to the Chronicle, the Bulawayo-Johannesburg trip now ranges between $380 and $453 for a return ticket.
Informed sources told Business Chronicle that the Brazil-manufactured Embraer ERJ 145 LR 50-seater plane was leased to Air Zimbabwe from the Innscor Group, which is reportedly controlled by Mike Fowler, Zed Kuruneris and Zanu-PF Mashonaland East chairperson Ray Kaukonde.
They said the 50-seater plane, which was flying the Bulawayo-Harare-Victoria Falls route, was more economic to run than the remaining Boeing 737 and 767 which are more suited to long haul flights.
Air Zimbabwe, the sources said, was able to keep the fares low by not charging taxes including fuel tax and service charges. The national airline was only charging Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) and handling charges.
“The 50-seater plane was taken away at the weekend. The Harare-Bulawayo flight was always full because it is smaller. The development only affected the Harare-Bulawayo flight on Saturdays, which was scrapped while the other schedules remained the same.The bigger planes are expensive to run and that has forced Air Zimbabwe to raise its fares on Sunday,” said the source.
The Boeing 737 has a carrying capacity of 105 while the Boeing 767 accommodates 202 passengers. The planes reportedly fly with only 50 passengers, which is not sustainable business wise.
The sources said Air Zimbabwe could have leased the plane directly from Brazil at cheaper rentals, but sanctions against the country thwarted the move.
Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Obert Mpofu declined to comment on the matter yesterday and referred all questions to the Air Zimbabwe management.
“Those are operational issues that I cannot comment on. Talk to the management at Air Zimbabwe,” said Mpofu.The airline’s public relations manager Shingai Taruvinga also could not comment on the matter.
“Unfortunately I cannot assist you because I am not at work. I am in hospital. Maybe you can try the Ministry of Transport,” said Taruvinga.
Efforts to get a comment from Kaukonde were fruitless as his mobile phones went unanswered. Reports, however, indicate that the government is probing the airline on the leasing of the plane amid fears that Air Zimbabwe has lost millions of dollars through a huge fixed monthly rental for the plane.