Workers at Air Zimbabwe have successfully won a high court application to have the airline placed under judicial management, which will now see its affairs handled by a judicial manager, Innocent Mavhunga, and not the airline’s board.
South African Airways (SAA) and Emirates are set to cash in on the woes that have gripped Zimbabwe’s state-owned airline, Air Zimbabwe, which yesterday was placed under judicial management because of a $140m debt.
Workers at the embattled airline successfully won a high court application to have the airline placed under judicial management, which will now see its affairs handled by a judicial manager, Innocent Mavhunga, and not the Air Zimbabwe board.
At the heart of the court intervention is a salary dispute between Air Zimbabwe and its workers, who claim to be owed more than $35m in outstanding salaries since June 2009.
Caleb Mucheche, a lawyer for the workers’ union, said: "Since the court has appointed a judicial manager it means this is a prelude to liquidation. The judicial manager will now move in and the current Air Zimbabwe board will have to step aside.
"The judicial manager will assess if Air Zimbabwe is still a viable entity, but as the way things stand, all is not well, and he is likely to recommend liquidation. That is the process. Whenever a judicial manager comes in, the next step is liquidation," Mr Mucheche said.
Air Zimbabwe has had to suspend several international and regional flights to Johannesburg and London as its debt crisis ballooned and saw its flagship Boeing aircraft seized by creditors for nonpayment of services.
The threat of liquidation is certain to work in favour of SAA, which holds the lion’s share in the airline market in Zimbabwe, according to the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe.
In 2010, SAA "accounted for the lion’s share of the airline market with 29,3%, relegating Air Zimbabwe to second position at 22,1%. British Airways-Comair came close on third position with 18,4%, while South African Airlink holds fourth position at 10,1%," reads a civil aviation authority report.
The United Arab Emirates-owned Emirates Airlines will start flights to Harare from February 1, in what is expected to start a return of international airlines to Zimbabwe after a 10-year hiatus.
More than 15 international airlines have pulled out of Zimbabwe, among them Lufthansa, Qantas, Austrian Airlines, Swissair, Air India, Air France and TAP Air Portugal.