Zimbabwe Airways Can’t Fly Because They Don’t Have Any Pilots (And Pilots Are Expensive)

Filed Under: Other Airlines

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.)

  1. It is sad that countries who are struggling economically end up with leaders who not only steal a few dollars but steal tens of millions, if not more, from people who desperately need the money. And then they often end up in power for many decades, you’d think someone would have knocked them off much sooner.

  2. If anyone has been to or spent time in Africa this should not surprise them at all, sad

  3. Is this a good time to highlight to you that Grace Mugabe at one point purchased 2 luxurious properties in Kuala Lumpur & Hong Kong? One for her family and one for where her daughter was studying, IIRC

  4. Oddly enough, the aircraft Z-RGM made a flight from Harare to Kuala Lumpur the other day according to Flight Radar 24. It hasn’t departed KUL according to the site (no subsequent sectors).

  5. Maybe they are afraid of the curse from Malaysian Airlines.
    First commertial flight, airplane disappear.

  6. I worked for a company which was approached by Air Zimbabwe to acquire several of our regional jets and they asked us to assist them in the process to obtain visas for a visit to inspect the birds. They gave me Simba Chikore’s name, his wife (Robert Mugabe’s daughter), their infant son, the nanny, the personal assistant and (finally) a couple of people who might actually be able to inspect an airplane (which were located in Montana). My inquiry to the State Department was met with derision (and denied) as nothing more than a front of a Mugabe family shopping trip in NYC, which is where all but the two poor souls who were to inspect the aircraft would have stayed for the duration…

  7. I’m not sure why you continue to impugn the integrity or Mr. Mugabe. His revolutionary credentials are beyond question within the anti-colonialist movement in Africa.

  8. Yes, the sass and shade in this post is brilliant. I love this post Lucky.

    And yes, we need to know what will happen to this airline and the B777. Thank you for the interesting posts Lucky.

    ..”Is Mugabe’s son-in-law a pilot? This question led me down a whole different rabbit hole.” I burst out laughing and read that line severally. Much needed comic relief.

  9. Pilots expensive ???
    Yes Lufthansa , Air France etc. are…and going on strike from time to time for even more money…
    Pilots who worked foe Ryan O´Leary (RYANAIR) sometimes worked for 2500 $ /month.
    Take offs , cruising and landings were not worse than with any other pilot .
    Maybe Z-air should ask Ryan , how to do this…

  10. @Charlie

    Yes, pilots are expensive.
    There’s a worldwide shortage of pilots. Those that left Ryanair in droves are finding jobs elsewhere just as those that are leaving Emirates. Air Berlin’s pilots were snapped up.

    I think that you don’t really know what you’re talking about.

  11. It’s a shame to see how far my country has fallen. Although I miss it and visit whenever I can, I’m glad I “escaped” to Australia years ago.

    Also, let’s not forget that Air Zimbabwe’s staff are essentially paid in “IOUs.” Basically, UM’s staff are paid a low “stipend,” with wages to be paid “when available.” I’ve flown Air Zimbabwe a few times over the last few years, and a once decent airline has fallen into complete and utter shambles. These 777s represented a faint glimmor of hope, but as all things in Zimbabwe, it’s obviously died quite quickly.

  12. WOW! VERY interesting post!

    Gucci Grace, I mean WTF!?!?.

    What else can one say beyond the obvious.

  13. “It is sad that countries who are struggling economically end up with leaders who not only steal a few dollars but steal tens of millions, if not more, from people who desperately need the money. And then they often end up in power for many decades, you’d think someone would have knocked them off much sooner.”

    Rich, are you talking about Zimbabwe or the US?? Seems like it could go either way these days.

  14. Hi Lucky, can you please sort out mail chimp. I have received 5 requests to subscribe and pop up boxes keep coming and blocking what I am trying to read . I have subscribed , but it keeps asking me .

  15. @ ken — Thanks for letting us know. I don’t think it’s the fault of MailChimp, but rather that we had to change how we use cookies because of GDPR. Let me see what can be done to fix it.

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