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Zimbabwe Aviation Authority Grounds Troubled National Carrier's Planes

  • Gibbs Dube

Sources said the aviation authority declared the three planes a public danger having reached the limit of 34,000 cycles or trips - a claim that was said to have infuriated the manufacturer which demanded an explanation

Air Zimbabwe on Wednesday canceled all domestic and regional flights after the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe declared the national carrier's three Boeing 737 aircraft too old to continue in service, leaving hundreds of travelers stranded.

Sources said the aviation authority declared the three planes a public danger having reached the limit of 34,000 cycles or trips - a claim that was said to have infuriated the manufacturer which was demanding an explanation from the aviation authority.

Air Zimbabwe’s sole functional Chinese-made MA60 also failed to take off Wednesday to service the Harare-Victoria Falls route, sources said. Two other MA60 planes have been grounded for more than a year - one was badly damaged when it struck warthogs on the Harare runway and has been stripped for parts, the other was declared unusable.

Elsewhere, the International Air Transport Association was demanding a surety bond of US$1.7 million from Air Zimbabwe to allow it to resume air ticket booking operations. Air Zimbabwe owes the association US$280,000 said to have been run up during an April strike by pilots and air crew which obliged extensive re-ticketing.

Air Zimbabwe has also lost the Boeing 737-500 it leased from Air Zambezi after failing to pay monthly installments on the lease.

The carrier's two Boeing 767s servicing its Harare-China and Harare-London routes are also grounded because Air Zimbabwe has been unable to meet the cost of fuel.

Commercial aviation expert Guy Leitch of South Africa’s Fly Magazine said the grounding of the three Boeing 737-200 planes sounded questionable, stating that "there are many Boeing 737s with a lot more than 34 000 cycles" in service.

Economic commentator Rejoice Ngwenya said it is time Harare privatized Air Zimbabwe. “This is the only way of saving Air Zimbabwe from total collapse,” he said.

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