The recent case in which Air Zimbabwe (Airzim) sent one of its aircraft to Ethiopia for maintenance suggests the need to align equipment acquisition with modernisation of infrastructure.
Last week, the national airline sent its B777-200ER Registration Z-RGM to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for special mandatory periodic maintenance.
The work cannot be carried out in Harare owing to the unavailability of special maintenance equipment.
While Airzim has licensed engineers on contract from Asia Aero Technic of Malaysia, maintenance work required on the aircraft cannot be completed successfully to the required conformance standards at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport.
This is largely because Harare has no technical rigs and testing equipment. The maintenance work that will be carried out on the aircraft is critical in ensuring that the aircraft remains serviceable.
The exercise will no doubt be costly and is one of the issues that should have been addressed and resolved prior to the acquisition of the planes.
Apart from ensuring that Zimbabwe has capacity to service the aircraft, the Airzim leadership should have also produced a business plan and routes for the aircraft prior to acquisition.
Airzim would also have engaged the business, cargo, travel and tourism markets to update them on the intended acquisitions and the routes the planes would be deployed to.
The aircraft were bought before the new Dispensation, but delivery was only effected in January this year.
What, however, is inescapable is that it is costly to keep the expensive aircraft grounded. Since delivery, the aircraft have not serviced any routes.
Perhaps the manner in which they were acquired, explains the current predicament, but there were people at the national airline who became aware at the time negotiations for the planes were underway.
Otherwise, having the aircraft serviced so as to lease it out suggests absence of a business plan.
The national airline should have been seized with the matter of what they were going to do once the aircraft were delivered.
That it appears there was an absence of a business strategy or how the equipment would be serviced and maintained properly, is an indictment against the leadership of the national carrier.
Aircraft manufacturer, Boeing, has plans for transforming Zimbabwe into its Southern African regional hub, where training and expert technical services would be available to companies operating Boeing aircraft.
Airzim could have taken this project into consideration or liaised with Boeing prior to acquisition so that delivery and establishment of the Boeing regional hub centre would have been synchronised, thus avoiding a scenario where the aircraft have been grounded for months.
The thinking driving the Boeing project is that airlines operating Boeing aircraft in Southern Africa would re-route their aircraft to Harare for specialised technical support.
This will enable the country to earn more foreign currency from the support rendered to Boeing aircraft operated by other countries in the region.
In July 2018, President Mnangagwa led the ground-breaking ceremony for the upgrade that will ultimately lead to the modernisation of the airport.
One of the landmark projects of the New Dispensation is going to be the transformation of Harare into a major regional hub servicing centre for aircraft.
In his 40th Independence anniversary address, the President said riding on the country’s geographic advantage, the nation’s transport strategy was set to position Zimbabwe to be a regional transport hub.
Modernisation of the RGM International Airport includes the expansion of international terminal building and aprons, installation of four brand new air bridges, a secondary radar system, an airfield ground lighting system, communication system, check-in system, construction of a VVIP pavilion and a new satellite fire station.
Operations of the Aviation Ground Services (AGS) are being repositioned in order to make the airport a competitive regional hub with capacity to handle all types of aircraft, cargo and offer complementary ground and passenger services.
The airport will have a carrying capacity of six million passengers upon completion of the current expansion works. Upon completion, Zimbabwe is expected to gain a competitive edge over its neighbours.
The modernisation of the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport is in line with the Government’s aspirations to rehabilitate aviation infrastructure across the country, as it seeks to attract more international airlines and passengers.
It would be reassuring if the next service of the Airzim aircraft will be undertaken locally. Otherwise with no current revenue base, the acquisition could turn out to be a costly adventure.