Over two hundred passengers of Southern African carrier, Air Zimbabwe are still stranded in Wuhan, China, the origin of the dreaded disease four months after global travel restrictions was imposed on the industry to curb the spread of the virus.
According to newsdzezimbabwe.co.uk, the passengers are still held up in their hotel several weeks after paying airfares to be flown home, while the flag carrier replaces a Boeing 767 engine which developed a fault mid-flight.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which will see the global economy shrink by 7,4%, the travel and tourism industry has been the hardest hit, with most airlines grounded.
The passengers, who include Zimbabweans and South Africans, paid airfares a month ago and were promised to be chartered to their destinations by July 15. However, they are stuck at a hotel in Wuhan.
Some of the stranded travellers told the Zimbabwe Independent that they have not received adequate feedback as to when they will be flown home.
Officials are said to have told the group that the plane was being serviced in Bangkok, Thailand.
“After we paid for the airfares, we were told that the airline will ferry us home on 15 July. But, surprisingly, we were later told that the plane is having its engine serviced in Thailand.
“We came from different cities and gathered here in Wuhan since July 8 where we are booked at a hotel. We are stuck here. We really need to go home,” the source said.
Air Zimbabwe spokesperson Firstme Vhitori said the delay arose from the challenges presented by Covid-19.
“It is important to clarify that Air Zimbabwe is not booking any passenger flights due to Covid-19 travel restrictions. We are strictly operating only repatriation and cargo flights on behalf of charterers,” Vhitori said.
“Dates of the charter in question will only be available once all logistical issues have been addressed. We do bear with the concerned charterer and all the passengers who have been affected by the Covid-19 restrictions on movement.”
Vhitori would not divulge the logistical issues experienced by the airline. But an Air Zimbabwe Boeing 767 plane on July 1 experienced a mid-air emergency from Bangkok to Pakistan and was forced to make a u-turn, after one of its engines shut down. Flight uM462 was 40km from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), Thailand, with 17 crew and two passengers onboard the Boeing 767200. The aircraft was scheduled to fly to Islamabad, Pakistan, where it was due to pick up 180 passengers for a special repatriation flight to South Africa and Zimbabwe, Air Zimbabwe said then.
“However, shortly after leaving Bangkok, the flight crew sent an emergency signal (squawk 7700). The Boeing 767-200 left engine reported an abnormal parameter, therefore the pilots were forced to shut it down, as established standard operating procedures require,” the airline explained in a statement later on the same day.
On February 25 last year, the same Air Zimbabwe plane delayed a Johannesburg-bound flight from Harare as engineers worked on the left engine.
Two months later, on April 26, last year, the same left engine was affected after a bird strike on take-off from Bulawayo.
Two days later, the same aircraft had a tailpipe fire incident in Johannesburg with its left engine emitting flames.