Woes continue to mount for national airline Air Zimbabwe after the European Union (EU) banned it from flying over its skies this week due to safety concerns.
Although Air Zimbabwe has not been plying commercial routes into the European Union due to financial constraints, President Robert Mugabe often charters planes from the airline during some of his international visits.
The European Commission, in its latest update of the EU Air Safety List, where it places non-European airlines that it says do not meet international safety standards, blacklisted Air Zimbabwe and other airlines from Nigeria, Ukraine and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
“The airlines Med-View (Nigeria), Mustique Airways (St. Vincent and the Grenadines), aviation company Urga (Ukraine) and Air Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe) were added to the list due to unaddressed safety deficiencies that were detected by the European Aviation Safety Agency during the assessment for a third country operator authorisation,” local news agency New Ziana quoted the European Commission saying.
The number of airlines on the EU blacklist is now 181 and affects 16 nations including Africa’s Angola, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Liberia, Libya, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Sudan.
Airlines from Benin and Mozambique had earlier restrictions lifted.
The European Commission said the EU Air Safety List not only helped “maintain high levels of safety in the EU, but it also helps affected countries to improve their levels of safety, in order to eventually allow them to operate flights to and from airports in the European Union.”
Air Zimbabwe announced in 2015 that it would seek European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) certification as part of its ambitious plans to widen its revenue streams by establishing an aircraft maintenance centre for regional and international carriers.
Transport Minister and Infrastructural Development Minister Joram Gumbo told international media that the EU informed airline management and government officials in a meeting recently about its safety violations.
“On the 26th and 27th of April we were called to go and explain to the European Union Commission on Safety what the situation was with Air Zimbabwe, which we did. We were not the only one,” he said.
He said Zimbabwe was pleased to note that it had been given some time to correct its mistakes, adding that Air Zimbabwe had also condemned for not computerizing its records.
Air Zimbabwe is saddled with a debt of over 300 million U.S. dollars, once culminating in cancellation of operations in 2005.
Efforts to secure strategic partners to steer it on a growth path have so far been fruitless.
During its heyday in the 1990s, the airline plied about 25 routes locally, regionally and internationally including the United Kingdom, Cyprus, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Kenya, Zambia, Malawi, South Africa and Swaziland.