DRC turmoil causes airline chaos.

Author:Williams, Stephen
Position:Democratic Republic of Congo - Cover Story

The Zimbabwe government has decided that the lease agreement between the state airlines Air Zimbabwe and Uganda Airlines will not be renewed after its five-year anniversary in November 1998.

The agreement had provided an Air Zimbabwe Boeing 737 200ER for Uganda Airlines to fly its remaining international routes, those not ceded to Alliance Air in the tripartite partnership agreement between Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa.

Although Zimbabwe's decision will come as no surprise, earlier in the year many observers believed that the two airlines would subsequently enter a code sharing, jointly operated 767 service to the Gulf. Seemingly, the abrupt cancellation of any ongoing arrangement is a direct result of the worsening relations between Harare and Kampala over the Congo crisis.

Both airlines, although very different entities, share the same challenge as parastatals being prepared for privatisation by their governments. Both have been rationalising and commercialising their operations; and, recognising that independently they may not be able to compete with the global carriers, have sought partnerships and alliances to maximise aircraft utilisation and generate revenue.

Air Zimbabwe will be disappointed with the loss of the proposed Dubai route, a destination having sufficient volume demand to make it a suitable joint venture arrangement and attractive addition to its international network - a network. that includes a Qantas tie-up between Harare and Perth.

In a determined bid to be competitive with the European carriers, and in particular British Airways, Air Zimbabwe has also been operating flights to London for Air Malawi and Zambian Express from the airlines' respective capitals with feeder flights to Harare. This has enabled Air Zimbabwe to provide four flights weekly to and from Harare and London, the same as BA's current allotment.

However, BA's faster 747 400s have more than double the seats of Air Zimbabwe's two 737 ERs that service the Wednesday and Sunday northbound, Thursday and Monday southbound services.

Air Zimbabwe readily admits that to cover the airline's direct costs, load factors of 48% on international, 55% on regional and 125% on domestic routes need to be attained. Domestic routes are unprofitable, but play a key role in the nation's tourist industry. One of the problems has been the cost of operating the...

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