Thursday, August 20, 2009

Air Zimbabwe to cut 500 jobs

ZIMBABWE'S national carrier said Tuesday it will cut 500 jobs, one-third of its workforce, in a bid to prevent the embattled airline from going under.

"We have no option other but to right-size or else we are dead," Air Zimbabwe chief executive Peter Chikumba told AFP.

Nearly a decade of economic and political crisis has seen annual passenger numbers for the struggling airline drop from a peak of one million in 1996 to just 300,000 now, the company said.

The state-owned airline formed in 1980 after the country's independence has been beset by a string of financial problems.

The company currently has a US$30 million debt, and has asked the government to sell its stake in the airline in a bid to raise desperately needed cash from private investors.

"If we do not do anything about it, the business will collapse and it will be very unfortunate if this happens," Chikumba told AFP.

Last year at the height of the country's hyperinflation, which officially hit 231 million percent but was believed many times higher, Air Zimbabwe was forced to sell tickets in the virtually worthless local currency.

That left the airline struggling to pay its membership fees with the airline regulation body, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), while it couldn't pay landing fees at London's Gatwick Airport.

Chikumba was hopeful that the unity government formed in February between President Robert Mugabe and his erstwhile rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai would bring economic stability and improve the business environment.

"We are positive that the political atmosphere that has been created will bring potential investors into the airline and the country," said Chikumba.

Air Zimbabwe's fortunes nosedived so dramatically that one flight in 2005 arrived from Dubai carrying a single passenger.

The route has since been closed, together with Kinshasa and Luanda, while the airline has concentrated on busy routes to South Africa, Britain and Zambia.

The company has also been hit hard by the national brain drain as experienced personnel such as engineers and pilots are poached by rival carriers in the region and Europe.

Chikumba said the retrenchment was a way of trimming the company's workforce to match the reduced business climate, while retaining staff with the right skills.

Source: AFP

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