By Professor Matodzi
Harare, July 15, 2013-Troubled state-run airline, Air Zimbabwe recently ducked the discomfiture of breaking aviation records once again after accommodating an extra passenger in the cockpit.
The Air Zimbabwe personnel accepted reservations for in excess of the available seating space on the Boeing 737-200 aircraft on its Friday 05 July 2013 Victoria Falls-Harare flight by taking in an extra passenger and the passenger had to be accommodated onto the jump seat located in the cockpit. The cockpit in modern aircraft has three seats. While two are for the pilot and co-pilot, the third one is called a jump seat which is usually vacant.
Air Zimbabwe’s Boeing 737-200 aircraft has a seating capacity of 105 passengers and the plane ended up accommodating 106 passengers.
An Air Zimbabwe senior flight attendant who was aboard the aircraft together with this reporter confirmed the incident but downplayed it by indicating that the passenger who was accommodated in the cockpit was a pilot in civilian clothes hence the passenger did not cause any security risk.
When quizzed by Radio VOP regarding Air Zimbabwe’s policy on accommodating passengers on the jump seat, the airline’s spokesperson Shingai Taruvinga said the obligation lies with the captain.
“Normally, it is up to the captain to decide whether to or not. It is the decision of the pilot,” said Taruvinga.
Taking more passengers than the number of seats violates the basic principal of air safety. However, depending on the policy of the airline, some airline employees in crew member positions such as pilots and flight attendants are permitted to fly standby in the aircraft’s jump seat if all of the passenger seats are filled. Air traffic controllers are at times allowed to ride in jump seats while occasionally a technical expert will ride to observe specific equipment operation in flight.
In July last year, Air Zimbabwe plunged into a crisis after the airline flew more passengers than its seating capacity on one of its Boeing 737-200 planes. Its decision to carry 109 passengers than the maximum capacity of 105 on the Boeing 737-200 aircraft claimed the scalp of two employees who were suspended from employment. The two Air Zimbabwe employees were accused of accommodating some kids on their parents’ lap thus making the trip an illegal flight.
Air Zimbabwe is not new to controversy as in 2005 the national airline broke aviation records by cruising between Dubai and Harare, with one passenger.
In November last year, Air Zimbabwe once again broke aviation records after the troubled airline flew an empty aircraft from Johannesburg to Harare upon the resumption of regional flights.
Air Zimbabwe flew an empty Boeing 767-200 aircraft, one of its long-haul planes, which has a carrying capacity of 203 passengers on its evening return flight from South Africa after it had ferried five passengers to Johannesburg from Harare International Airport on its morning flight.
The airline cruised the Johannesburg-Harare route with nine flight crew aboard including two pilots, an engineer and six air hostesses.
The embarrassing incident was a result of poor marketing by the ailing airline which had just resumed regional flights having suspended them in January 2012 after creditors threatened to seize the carrier’s aircraft over crippling debts.
In 2011, the airline ferried one passenger from Victoria Falls to Harare after landing in the resort town with 16 passengers on its Chinese-made MA60 aircraft from Harare.
Critics say years of mismanagement and interference by the government have nearly brought the airline to its knees.
Starved of cash for recapitalisation, Air Zimbabwe uses mostly old-fashioned technology and equipment while nearly all its planes are between 18 and 23 years old except for the Chinese-made Modern Ark (MA) 60. The airline recently acquired two Airbus A320 aircraft and an Embraer as it bids to revive its waning fortunes.