News South Africa ground Air Zimbabwe jetliner over debt

South Africa ground Air Zimbabwe jetliner over debt

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South Africa’s state-run airports’ management company grounded Zimbabwe’s debt-strapped national airline from using the country’s airports over the unpaid landing and parking fees.

Air Zimbabwe’s debts to foreign and domestic creditors have reached more than $300 million. Last year,  the government of Zimbabwe put the airline under administration and later invited bids from potential investors as it seeks to privatise it.

Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) grounded Air Zimbabwe’s only international destination said the airline had failed to pay passenger service charges, landing and parking fees and an undisclosed amount towards clearing its arrears.

Officials of the airline also confirmed that the aircraft was held at Johannesburg’s Oliver Tambo International Airport on Wednesday.

In a statement by ACSA the company said Air Zimbabwe had not adhered to the cash basis terms for using its airports and the suspension would remain until outstanding amounts are settled.

According to the statement, the airline was required to pay ACSA cash once a week to cover landing fees, parking and passenger service charges for its weekly flight to Johannesburg.

ACSA said it informed Air Zimbabwe last week that it would no longer be allowed to take off from any of its nine airports. Over the last two years, the state-owned Air Zimbabwe has laid off hundreds of its staff.

Tafadzwa Mazonde, Air Zimbabwe spokesperson confirmed the seizure of the aircraft and stated the airline’s officials were engaging Acsa to release the aircraft.

“That’s what is happening. It’s a temporary suspension over a cumulative debt. We are in discussion with our shareholder and we are hopeful that we will find a solution,” said Mazonde.

Zimbabwe’s economy has been deteriorating since former president Robert Mugabe led a devastating land reform policy which sent inflation spiralling and led to shortages of fuel, food and medicine.

Operations between Johannesburg and Zimbabwe’s capital Harare were affected by the incident as passengers expected to fly midweek failed to be flown.

Flights remained cancelled since Thursday as the airline moves to resolve the impasse. The grounded plane is the only aircraft that operates with a Johannesburg Harare route. It also makes other domestic flights between Harare-Bulawayo and Victoria Falls.

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