October 4, 2008

Air Zimbabwe Suspends Flights Following Dispute Over Pilots’ Allowances

Text of report by London-based opposition newzimbabwe.com website on 3 October

[Report by Lebo Nkatazo: "Air Zimbabwe Grounds Planes as Pilots Strike"]

Air Zimbabwe cancelled domestic and regional flights on Friday after all its pilots feigned sickness in a row over allowances.

The state-owned carrier said Friday it had suspended flights with immediate effect because most of its pilots were sick.

In a statement, the carrier said all flights on Friday and Saturday had been cancelled, and that the situation would be reviewed later.

The airline said most of its pilots had been taken ill, and were not reporting for duty without saying what had afflicted them.

Air Zimbabwe flies to most countries in the region, and also to destinations in Asia, Middle East and Europe.

The airline has also taken up European routes for other regional airlines such as Air Malawi.

Air Zimbabwe's top management were locked in meetings throughout Friday in a bid to resolve the dispute with its pilots.

New Zimbabwe.com understands the dispute is over what are called overboard allowances which the pilots and the first officers are paid in foreign currency.

The allowances, which are separate from the salaries which are pegged in Zimbabwe dollars, range from US$3,500 to US$7000 per month depending on a pilot's length of service, rank and experience.

The pilots say their regional counterparts are paid well above that and are demanding that their allowances be doubled, a source at the airline said.

"None of the pilots have said they are on strike," said the source. "They have all reported sick and once a pilot says he is not fit, you can't force them to work. But management knows what this is about, the board knows as well."

Air Zimbabwe's Chief Executive Officer Peter Chikumba who is officially on leave was said to be at work trying to resolve the dispute which has already grounded flights between Harare, Bulawayo and the Victoria Falls as well as flights to Johannesburg.

If the dispute remains unresolved into Saturday, it could affect the flight to Singapore.

One of Air Zimbabwe's two 767s which service the Harare-London route was already out of service to undergo mandatory modifications ordered by Boeing -forcing the airline to reduce flights between the two destinations.

David Mwenga, Air Zimbabwe's Regional Manager for Europe said on Friday that passengers booked on the airline's Saturday night flight from London to Harare would instead be put on the Sunday night flight.

"Because of the work being done on one of our 767s, we have combined the Saturday and Sunday flights out of London," he said, adding that he was hopeful the "pilot situation" would be resolved before Sunday.

Originally published by newzimbabwe.com website, London, in English 0000 3 Oct 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Africa. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.