Aviation insiders in Harare say the new Boeing 777-200 bought for a new Zimbabwe Airways airline company with state funds has returned to Malaysia without making a single flight.
The purchase of the plane and three others from Malaysian Airways was negotiated by former president Robert Mugabe’s son-in-law, Simba Chikore.
The national carrier Air Zimbabwe was not chosen to take on the new planes, not least because it was bankrupt.
A new airline, Zimbabwe Airways, was created to operate the new aircraft because insiders said this company would not inherit the state airline’s massive debts.
Chikore negotiated a deal with Malaysian Airlines from its stock of 17 similar planes that it no longer uses. These 300-seater aircraft, Zimbabwe aviation experts said, would be too big and expensive to run for the country’s established airline routes.
It had one long-haul flight to the UK but can no longer fly the route for safety reasons.
The first of the Boeing aircraft arrived in Harare last month, and on hand to welcome it was Chikore, previously a pilot with Air Zimbabwe and Qatar Airways, who failed his practical test for promotion to the rank of captain.
He never had any commercial experience before he set up the deal with Malaysian Airways.
Also without experience, he was previously made chief operating officer of Air Zimbabwe, but quit this job after Mugabe was ousted last year.
There were no Zimbabwean pilots qualified to fly the new aircraft, nor ground crew to service them.
“Sending the plane back to Malaysia will cost a fortune. No one knows why it has gone, and the government isn’t telling,” said a long-serving Zimbabwe airman in Joburg this week.
Transport Minister Joram Gumbo said Chikore was brought in on a voluntary basis to help secure the deal, and he had not been paid.
Chikore has refused to comment on why he was brought in when there were many Zimbabwean experts better qualified than him.