The Small Detail Standing In The Way Of Zimbabwe Airways Acquiring Four 777s

Filed Under: Other Airlines

Air Zimbabwe is the government owned airline of Zimbabwe, and they have a rather outdated fleet, consisting of a couple of 737-200s, 767-200s, an A320, and a Xian MA60. I’m not going to lie, that last one seems especially cool as an aviation geek, as only a few dozen are in service, and the plane was built in China.

Photo courtesy Montague Smith

However, Zimbabwe had a plan to turn around their aviation sector and bring their airline global by leasing four Boeing 777-200 aircraft, which were previously operated by Malaysia Airlines.


One of the planes was even repainted in Zimbabwe Airways colors (when the airline announced this plan they also said they wanted to rebrand from Air Zimbabwe to Zimbabwe Airways, because why not?), and I have to say it’s one sexy livery.

Someone in the comments section of the YouTube video said:

At least we can silence the haters … proudly Zimbabwean

Yeah, so there’s only one slight problem. Apparently it’s tough to lease a plane when you’re funded by the government of Zimbabwe. After all, this is the country of unprecedented hyper-inflation — for example, in November 2008, the country had inflation of 79.6 billion percent.

Ch-aviation notes that Air Zimbabwe has done all the work required to get the planes, they just don’t have the money:

Quoting sources close to the deal, the paper reports the Zimbabwean government-owned carrier has failed to source the requisite foreign currency needed to secure the aircraft and thus deploy them into service under the Zimbabwe Airways (Harare Int’l) brand.

“Most of the groundwork had been done and what was left was Air Zimbabwe to pay to activate the lease but the airline does not have the money and the shareholder (government) for now has no capacity,” a source told the newspaper.

Somehow Air Zimbabwe is in 300 million USD of debt, even though they just have a few planes. The country’s transport minister says that they can’t take over the 777s until that debt is taken over by the government, so will instead pursue partnerships:

“We don’t have money to buy new planes,” he told The Zimbabwe Standard. “If we had money, we would have bought already. I said we want to have a partnership, but in pursuing this partnership, I am yet to conclude the deal, because I have to deal with the AirZim debt, which I have placed before Cabinet.”

So it looks like it might be another year or two before we see daily nonstop flights between Harare and New York. 😉

While I haven’t been to Zimbabwe, I did have the, erm, privilege of flying with Mrs. “Gucci Grace” Mugabe in Singapore Airlines first class from New York to Frankfurt years ago after one of her famous shopping trips. It was an interesting flight, to say, the least, from Mrs. Mugabe taking off her bra and walking around the cabin in an undershirt that left nothing to the imagination, to her only eating caviar, to her entourage in economy and business always coming up to first class.

(Tip of the hat to

  1. “Mrs. Mugabe taking off her bra and walking around the cabin in an undershirt”

    Considering this was suites, you must have been paying quite a bit of attention….

  2. @ anon — It wasn’t, it was back in the day of the Singapore Airlines 747-400. I was in the center seat, she was in 1A. You couldn’t *not* look at her.

  3. I just don’t understand why the leasing company/seller has painted the aircraft in thei livery when in essense they havn’t even got any money from them.
    Perhaps they told them they had billions only to find out it was worthless zimbawe money.

    I wonder if Maylasia was so desperate to get rid of their name on the 777s they’ll paint them without even getting a deposit.

  4. Actually Zimbabwe is in deflation last year

    After the country stopped printing their own currency in 2009,the inflation rate is no longer more than2%

  5. Regarding the name change from Air Zimbabwe to Zimbabwe Airways, it appears they are following the same rule book as one of American’s legacy carriers. USAir changes to US Airways in part because “Airways” is more associated with international airlines and “Air” is more associated with regional carriers.

  6. Yeah, the inflation issue is very much a symptom rather than the cause of their lack of money. For a time they funded themselves domestically by printing so much money even Weimar Germany would blush. True, since giving up a domestic currency, inflation is no longer a problem. However, they still can’t balance their current account.

    @Andrew ROFLMAO I’ve always found funding issues to be the primary obstacle in life.

  7. A lack of money to pay for an aircraft seems like a very small obstacle in purchasing an aircraft.

    Seriously though, Zimbabwe is an absolute basket case. I’m surprised they even have an airline.

  8. Don’t dare to book flight with Air Zimbabwe. I had a bad experience with them last Nov. It took 6 months to get my money back. They have huge debts in most Airports that they fly and passengers are required to pay the Airport tax ($50) directly at security gates. You don’t see that in their website and it is a fine print, website will crash after booking is completed and you will have to make 10s of calls to their Harare HUB to get the ticket issued. Price is ridiculously high and equivalent to SA Airways. Only for connection timing we decided to go for them but after bad experience we didn’t fly with them as Airport nor Flight tracking apps can confirm if they are flying as per schedule. It is a hit & miss with no refund or compensation. We booked JNB to VFA with them. Finally we took British Airways (Franchise) to VFA and flew back from Livingstone. Victoria Falls is a must visit and take SA or BA if you decide to fly to Zimbabwe. One can fancy taking a British gifted steam engine train covering 300miles Victoria Falls to Bulawayo route on a 12hours train. Between Zimbabwe uses USD and prices of F&B and daily use items are just rocket high. A small box of steam rice pack is $13!!

  9. Zimbabwe is a classic example of a failed nation. A shame since it was formerly the “Breadbasket of Africa”.

  10. Having flown on a Xian MA60 in Laos a few years ago, I can assure you that you are not missing much. Perhaps the most notable issue was the ventilation system raining onto the passengers across the aisle from me (I was luckily seated in a dry zone).

  11. Loved this story… esp the bit about Her Grace in First Class. Priceless. There are some things that money can’t buy. Like class. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.

  12. @gomigo I also booked JNB-VFA on Air Zimbabwe, but unlike you had the unique displeasure of actually flying them two months ago.. sort of. We got an e-mail from the airline at 10:45AM advising that our 1:30PM JNB-VFA flight was now due to depart at 11:15AM. Huh?!?! Luckily we were staying adjacent to JNB airport and just made the flight, on an ancient 762 with about 10 other passengers. However, halfway to VFA the flight diverted to BUQ (Bulawayo), where we were then treated to a seven hour van ride across Zimbabwe to VFA, for which the airline tried making us cover the cost of petrol. Truly a nightmarish experience.

    We thought about booking SAA or BA for the return a few days later, but decided to chance the flight back on UM, because the flight timings were ideal for us. Astonishingly, our 30 year old 732 left VFA bang on time with every seat full, and arrived JNB early. Truly a bizarre experience.

  13. Lol @MikeM…”There are some things money can’t buy…” Grace is really a disgrace. A very arrogant woman, acting stupidly wherever she is, be it in Singapore or in SA. Lucky it will be nice to have a trip report of your journey with grace

  14. They used to run a fun fifth-freedom route on a 762 between Singapore and Beijing. Always thought that was the coolest most random fifth-freedom flight in the world

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