ZIMBABWE’S airports could cause an aviation disaster due to poor weather-detecting instruments, outdated radar, few emergency vehicles, inadequate fire-fighting capacity and deplorable runways.
Owing to outdated systems, Zimbabwe is posing a security risk to the region while criminal and smuggling syndicates can also take advantage of the situation to smuggle minerals and ivory out of the country without being detected.
This is contained in a report on the findings of an investigation by the parliamentary portfolio committee on Transport and Infrastructural Development on the state of Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) airport infrastructure.
The committee accessed eight major airports, namely Robert Gabriel Mugabe International (RGM), Victoria Falls International and Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International, as well as Masvingo, Hwange, Kariba, Charles Prince and Buffalo Range regional airports.
The committee conducted verification visits to all CAAZ-run airports with the exception of Buffalo Range.
“The committee on its visit to Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport noted that the radar system in use was outdated and requiring an upgrade. The situation poses a risk of not getting spare parts to support system operations which potentially results in the radar system totally crashing. In addition, use of an outdated radar system may result in the airspace being compromised and planes flying in and out of the country undetected which could pose regional security threats,” the report reads.
“There is a risk that smuggling syndicates may utilise this opening to fly out highly valued minerals such as gold and diamonds as well as ivory out of the country. The Committee felt that if the radar system was not urgently addressed, there is generally a greater risk of aircraft collision, failure to promptly identify distressed aircraft, delays and increased operating costs of airlines.”
The committee said radar surveillance systems should be acquired in view of the increased air traffic at airports, particularly at RGM International Airport and JM Nkomo, so as to mitigate against aviation accidents.
“CAAZ needs to procure an air traffic management system and upgrade its tower control equipment systems at all CAAZ airports by November 2021 to ensure safety of air traffic control within Zimbabwe and mitigate against aviation disasters,” the committee said.
The findings of the committee paint a poor picture of the state of affairs at the country’s airports with the CAAZ also exposed as technically insolvent and unable to implement any turnaround strategies while some airports had run out of land for expansion projects.
“CAAZ was burdened by technical insolvency arising from legacy debts amounting to US$166 million. In addition, loans from shareholders amounting to US$102 million exposed CAAZ to litigation risks due to failure to repay the debts. This situation was exacerbated by inter-parastatal debts, that is Air Zimbabwe owes CAAZ US$45 million, and National Handling Services (NHS) owes it US$5.8 million,” the report reads. It also revealed that the adoption of the Zimbabwean dollar also “negatively eroded the value of funds that CAAZ had in its accounts.”
A major risk to passengers was also due to a shortage emergency standby vehicles and inadequate fire tenders, among other deficiencies, necessary for safety.
“The Committee observed that only Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport had a working ambulance emergency vehicle and emergency operators in the vicinity of the airport. The rest of the airports, that is Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International, Victoria Falls International, Charles Prince, Masvingo, Kariba and Hwange National Park airports all had defective ambulance vehicles and were relying on externally-owned ambulance vehicles,” the report reveals.
“The committee observed that there were no readily available fire tenders at some of the airports. In this regard, smaller airports such as Masvingo and Hwange National Park were relying on assistance from surrounding stakeholders.
“The Committee noted that while fire tenders from Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo and Masvingo airports were being serviced in South Africa, a suitable local arrangement could have been negotiated for by CAAZ. In this regard, the Committee noted that these airports had been left without adequate fire tenders to service them and CAAZ had exposed its airports to potential major airline disasters.”
JM Nkomo International Airport and Masvingo Airport had sub-standard structures which were being used as fire stations, the committee noted.
With regards expansion projects, the committee noted that airports were running out of land for expansion purposes in particular Kariba, Charles Prince and Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International as urban settlements had invaded airport zones.
Observations by the parliamentary committee confirm a report by The NewsHawks, which last moth reported that Zimbabwe is yet to acquire a new state-of-the-art air traffic control radar system, almost nine years after CAAZ raised alarm over the urgent need to replace the current outdated – and dangerous – aviation technology.
The country – whose failure to acquire radar symbolises rudderless leadership – has been using an obsolete aviation control system, which constantly breaks down, rendering the airspace insecure and risky.
This comes as the fierce contestation between the Zimbabwean military and CAAZ over the installation and management of the radar control system rages on, with the army citing national security to take over the show.
However, a source told The NewHawks that the fight between CAAZ and the army over the radar is not about national security, but personal interest, “our time to eat” and “cuts”, denoting greed and corruption.
The issue first raised a stink in 2017 when former Transport minister Joram Gumbo allowed the CAAZ board to award a US$33 million contract to Indra Sistemas and Homt Espana SA for the finance, supply and installation of the airspace control system without going to tender.
Since then, the critical project has been caught up in a self-aggrandisement battle between the military and CAAZ with different companies lined up to supply the equipment.
There are about nine airlines flying into Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, including flag carrier Air Zimbabwe, locally-registered Fastjet, South Africa’s independent carrier Airlink – the biggest in the region – and some international carriers such as Ethiopian Airlines and Emirates.
South African Airways, which dominated flights into Zimbabwe, is not flying now as it is still under business reconstruction.
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