Oh, Zimbabwe. The future of your new national airline (fully privately funded and having nothing to do with the Mugabe family, natch) looked so bright. It was bound to be the next Emirates, connecting Harare to the world. I’m sure the Skytrax inspectors were enroute to Harare with a five star trophy when they heard the news of the new airline (hey, if Lufthansa can get a five star rating, anyone can). ?

What is Air Zimbabwe?

For those of you who have no clue what I’m talking about, in mid-April Zimbabwe took delivery of a Boeing 777, which used to fly for Malaysia Airlines. Their plan was to start a new airline — Zimbabwe Airways — which would replace their previous national airline (Air Zimbabwe) that was in hundreds of millions of dollars of debt. Naturally when you want to start a new airline you immediately order four widebodies, because that’s the best way to start a profitable airline. Just ask Baltia.

The claim was that the new airline had nothing to do with Robert Mugabe. So when the plane (with the registration code Z-RGM, with “RGM” coincidentally being Robert Mugabe’s initials) touched down at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport with Robert Mugabe’s son-in-law emerging from the plane in a captain’s uniform, we were of course very trusting of that.

In all honesty, while it’s clear that there’s some corruption involved here (which is terribly sad when you think of how this money could otherwise be spent, but that’s nothing new in Zimbabwe), I’m genuinely curious to see what they do with their 777. They have the plane, so what’s next? I’d guess Gucci Grace might take it on some shopping trips, but I feel like there are two problems there:

  • Airlines from Zimbabwe aren’t allowed to fly to most places that Mrs. Mugabe is known to shop, including Europe and the US
  • I feel like she wouldn’t stoop that low, as she only flies first class or private (maybe she could hitch a ride on Pastor Jesse’s jet?)

Zimbabwe Airways 777 flies for the first time!

Last week I wrote about how the new 777 hadn’t yet left Robert Mugabe Airport, which raised a lot of questions. I noticed that flight tracking websites indicated that on May 25 the plane made the nine hour flight from Harare back to Kuala Lumpur (where it originally came from), which made me wonder what was going on. Are they returning the plane already?

Nope. Daily Live reports that the Zimbabwe Airways 777 was flown back to Kuala Lumpur Airport for A-checks and other maintenance, which is pretty standard. Ideally that kind of work would be done between flights (you know, planes only make money when they’re in the air), rather than after sitting on the ground for weeks on end having done nothing.

Oddly the transport minister can neither confirm nor deny that this has happened (maybe he should check Flightradar24):

Transport minister Joram Gumbo, who has been tormented by the Zim Airways deal, could neither deny nor confirm yesterday that the Boeing 777 had been flown back to Malaysia.

“Ask whoever told you that the plane went for repairs to tell you the extent of the damage. As far as I am concerned, I do not know anything about it,” Gumbo said curtly.

The reason Zimbabwe Airways hasn’t started commercial service

The above isn’t even the best part of the story. Rather I’m much more interested in why they haven’t yet started commercial service. What’s their reasoning for not having operated any commercial flights yet (other than the fact that their business model makes no sense to begin with)? The airline doesn’t have any qualified pilots to operate the plane, and they’re realizing that pilots are expensive.

“Unfortunately, if the delay in organising everything continues, the costs of maintaining it will keep ballooning, especially considering the fact that it is not making any money – which all raises more questions as to how we have ended up where we are.”

“Firstly, no one wanted those old planes and so they could have cost us much, much less. Secondly, Zim Airways clearly has no capacity to operate those aircraft, as they have no trained pilots and engineers for them.”

“This means the we will need to hire expatriates to fly the planes, and the going rate for a B777 captain is at least $20,000 per month which is unaffordable in this market, where you don’t even have the passengers to justify the investment.”

The story also suggests that the plane was flown to Harare by five Malaysian pilots. But wait a second, Mugabe’s son-in-law got off that plane wearing a uniform with four stripes. Do you mean to tell me that he’s not an experienced 777 captain with thousands of hours of flying under his belt?

Is Mugabe’s son-in-law a pilot?

This question led me down a whole different rabbit hole. Is Mugabe’s son-in-law, Simba Chikore, a pilot? This is the first thing my Google search returned:

Okay, on the plus side, that’s a bachelors party I can get behind. 6PM till 9PM? Those are my kind of hours! I’d only miss my bedtime by about 90 minutes.

Some stories suggest he claimed to be a pilot for Qatar Airways, but the airline denied he ever worked for them. Other stories suggest he was a first officer for Qatar Airways, failed the tests to become a captain, and then went back to Zimbabwe.

So who the heck really knows. But my gosh, this sure is juicy.

Bottom line

It’s obvious that Zimbabwe Airways would never make it. Based on what we know, it seems like there may have been some bribes involved somewhere along the way, given the $140 million that has allegedly gone missing in this deal. This whole thing makes me sad, but then again, this level of waste is nothing new in Zimbabwe, and it’s par for the course. They’re going to waste hundreds of millions of dollars at the expense of their people one way or another.

Now I’m just following along to see what ends up happening — will the 777 return to Harare Airport and park there until it’s unusable, will they try to sell it, or what? It seems almost certain it will never operate a commercial flight.

(Tip of the hat to Sean M.)