Air Zimbabwe is up in court to fight for ownership of two A320s. The two Airbus planes arrived at the carrier over seven years ago, but have barely been used yet. While the leasing company, South Jet, says Air Zimbabwe needs to pay for the planes, the carrier maintains that they were a donation and that South Jet need to release the paperwork to allow them to repair the planes.
One of the Air Zimbabwe A320s, Z-WPM, parked up at Johannesburg. Photo: gordon.bevan@xtra via FlickrAir Zimbabwe is in a tug of war with the Isle of Man company South Jet over two Airbus A320s. The planes, which are apparently parked up and not suitable for use right now, were acquired by the airline in 2012. However, the circumstances of the acquisition are muddy.
The carrier claims that the planes were donated to the Government of Zimbabwe by authorities in the Isle of Man, and subsequently passed to the airline. However, South Jet maintains that the aircraft are dry leased from them and have taken Air Zimbabwe to court over its failure to pay the leasing fees.
Where did the A320s come from?
The two Airbus A320-200s, registered Z-WPM and Z-WPN, we arranged to go to Zimbabwe in a deal spearheaded by China Sonangol International. At the time, the Chinese partner was looking to bail out the Mugabe regime and help revive the debt-laden national carrier.
The deal was brokered through two Isle of Man ‘special purpose vehicles’, known as South Jet One and South Jet Two. Z-WPN entered into active service for a while, but Z-WPM has been parked at Johannesburg O.R. Tambo since the start of 2014, according to CH-Aviation.
The reason both aircraft are now out of service, Air Zimbabwe says, is because they are unable to access the software to perform necessary repairs to the planes. An official of the airline told Bulawayo that,
They are due for tests and we cannot service them because we need access to the software and computer platform. The access is closed because it is saying you (Air Zimbabwe) are not the owner. So we want to resolve this ownership issue so that we are able to use those Airbuses. One is here and the other is in South Africa for maintenance.”
The official said that Air Zimbabwe is keen to sort out the ownership paperwork because they do want to fly the planes. However, South Jet has another side to the story.
Who owns the A320s?
South Jet claims that the A320s are both dry leased to Air Zimbabwe and that the carrier has not been paying the leasing fees on the planes for some time. A speech back in 2016, by the then Minister of Transport, Joram Gumbo, seems to confirm these claims. At the time, CH-Aviation report that he said,
“The aircrafts[sic] were not purchased, but are being leased from China Sonangol since 2012. These were part of efforts by Government to support the turnaround process of Air Zimbabwe.”
However, now the Zimbabwean state claims that the two aircraft were donated in 2013. A senior official told the Zimbabwe Independent that,
“The Airbuses were a donation which was made to the Government of Zimbabwe which then gave the planes to Air Zimbabwe.”
However, the legal representative of South Jet, Honour Mkushi of Sawyer and Mkushi Legal Practitioners, has categorically denied that any such transaction took place. Bulawayo quotes him as saying,
“I represent South Jet One they are my clients. The two aircraft belong to South Jet and they are not operating at the moment because there are a lot of arrears to be paid in respect of the rentals. So, in a nutshell, the aircraft belong to them. If the airplanes were theirs how could they fail to service them?”
Losing these two aircraft and having the backdated lease account imposed on their accounts would only add to the challenges Air Zimbabwe are facing. It is currently estimated that the airline is in debt by more than $350m. Sole owner, the Zimbabwean government, has tried to resurrect the airline by appealing to investors, but as yet no entity has been willing to take a gamble on the beleaguered carrier.
Other missing planes in Zim
Aside of the two A320s, Air Zimbabwe has recently landed in hot water for three aircraft which have apparently gone ‘missing’. Three MA60 aircraft, which were purchased from China in 2005 for $12.5m each, are no longer present on the airline’s audit documents, as reported in Bulawayo.
At the time, the Auditor General of Zimbabwe said that none of the planes were accounted for in the airline’s financial statements. Assumptions quickly turned to the possibility that they had been ‘stolen’. However, the airline fervently denies the claims, saying that they know where they are and that ‘anyone is free to come and see them’.
As well as this, there was an aviation drama in December last year, when Air Zimbabwe was supposed to be buying four Boeing 777s. The deal, as reported in Aerotime News, began as a covert government initiative, and developed into a national scandal after the airline failed to make payments on two of them, letting the deal fall through.
Air Zimbabwe had to shut down for several days in January as they had no planes to fly. View From The Wing reports that their Boeing 737-200 needed extensive maintenance, lasting around 45 days, while their only other aircraft, a 767, needed a component upgrade which would take several days.
African aviation is a tough game to be in right now. Could the outcome of the South Jet wrangling be the final nail in the coffin for the Zimbabwean flag carrier, or can the airline resurrect itself despite the current challenges?