HARARE, May 16 (The Source) – Air Zimbabwe has been added to a list of airlines barred from entering Europe after failing to address safety deficiencies picked up during European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) operator audits, the European Commission announced on Tuesday.
The European Commission’s decision to bar Air Zimbabwe is a major setback as the perennial loss-maker was considering resuming flights on the lucrative Harare-London route, which it stopped servicing in 2012 after one of its planes was temporarily impounded in the United Kingdom over a debt owed to a parts and maintenance supplier.
Air Zimbabwe was also thrown out of the International Aviation Transport Association (IATA) clearing house after accumulating fee arrears. That debt now stands at $3.5 million. IATA facilitates payments between airlines and other businesses in air travel.
“The EU Safety List is a list of airlines which the European Commission…on the basis of the advice of the EU Air Safety Committee, decided to subject to either a complete or a partial operating ban within the European Union, for failure to adhere to the applicable international safety standards,” the Commission said in a notice published on its website on Tuesday.
The Commission, which updates and publishes the list regularly, said it would consider safety audit requests from any airline seeking removal from the blacklist.
“Where an airline included in the community list deems itself to be in conformity with the necessary technical elements and requirements prescribed by the applicable international safety standards, it may request the Commission to commence the procedure for its removal from the list,” the Commission said.
The European Union (EU) Air Safety List is divided into two, the first includes airlines completely banned from operating in Europe while the second has restricted carriers which can, however, operate under certain conditions.
Banned airlines, like Air Zimbabwe, could still operate in Europe on wet leases — leasing aircraft as well as crew, maintenance and insurance.
On February 20, Air Zimbabwe chief executive Ripton Muzenda told a parliamentary committee that the airline’s target to increase revenue to $47 million this year from $36 million in 2016, depended on the resumption of long-haul flights, particularly the Harare-London route, which would serve the considerable UK-based Zimbabwean population.
At the time, Muzenda said the airline had given itself a May target to pay up its debt and get the mandatory certification required to operate the London route.
Air Zimbabwe, burdened by a $330 million debt, narrowed its full-year losses by 42 percent to $15 million in 2016 from $26 million the previous year, largely as a result of cost cutting.
The airline has found the going tough on the busy Harare-Johannesburg route, dominated by South African Airways, with law-cost carrier Fast Jet also staking a claim for market share.