Leroy Dzenga Features Writer
Close to 200 people were waiting as the reception committee on the tarmac at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport at 1250 yesterday, as Air Zimbabwe (Airzim)’s newest plane, a Boeing 777-200ER, flew in to a warm, wet welcome of squirting water cannon, the traditional way of celebrating the arrival of a new ship or plane.
Government officials, journalists, flight attendants, National Handling Service staff and security personnel were all eagerly awaiting the plane, registered as Z-RGM, and the chatter was so loud that the master of ceremonies for the day, Tatenda Chinoda, was not having much luck.
But at exactly 1250hrs, a chorus broke out in whisper-like tones.
“Iyo,” “Iyo,” was all the photographers and camera persons needed to spring into action.
They tussled to get a shot of aviation magnificence as the plane made its way.
Emerging from the western horizon, almost blending with the whitish colour of the cloudy sky, the Boeing B777 again stole the conversation from the MC as the throttles were opened for the landing.
Ten hours after its departure from Kuala Lumpur, water cannons were ready to give the new national asset its first baptism.
It is tradition when a new plane arrives that it is given a water salute, a sign of honour and respect.
Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa walked to the plane to formally welcome her Transport and Infrastructural Development counterpart Joel Biggie Matiza who flew to Malaysia to collect the plane.
In an interview with The Herald in the plane’s cockpit, the man who steered the bird from Malaysia, Captain Stephen Jungen, described the model as the “Queen of the sky.”
“It is the safest aircraft ever built,” he said. “The first plane in the world with failure management system. In its history, only one plane crashed in Dubai and it was because of a piloting fault, not a mechanical reason.”
Despite concerns by people on social media over the safety of acquiring second-hand planes, Captain Jungen, who flew Emirates airlines for 14 years, said preliminary trials showed there should not be any safety worries.
“We did a test flight with her two days ago, flew over the Indian Ocean, testing the bird and all appeared in order,” he said. “We had a smooth flight with her.
“In terms of efficiency, it is the best flight for long distances. At best performance it can go for 18 hours, but this one will be averaging around 13-hour flights.”
With a carrying capacity of 282 passengers, 28 in business class and the rest economy, the plane comes at a time when Airzim is facing serious challenges with its depleted fleet.
After the grounding of its last Boeing 737-200 ER, named Mbuya Nehanda, last year, Airzim has been operating with a single plane, the only slightly younger 767-200ER, known as Chimanimani.
Airzim pilots are excited with the addition to their fleet.
Captain Eben Murapa, a senior pilot with the airline said the model was best suited for long haul flights.
“The plane has two Rolls Royce Trent engines with 90 000 pounds of thrust,” he said. “It is not designed for short trips like Harare to Johannesburg or Harare to Bulawayo. The minimum has to be around eight hours if you are using the plane properly.”
Captain Murapa said Zimbabwe made a good purchase on the aircraft.
“It is a good airplane and this is a 2004 make which means it still has a lot of flying hours ahead of it,” he said. “It is mostly used by major airlines and is known as the backbone of the aviation industry.”
It was not only aviation enthusiasts who were elated at the prospect of the new bird, but politicians and tourism heads were equally enthused.
Zimbabwe Tourism Authority acting chief executive officer Givemore Chidzidzi said the plane brought more travelling convenience to tourists.
“One of the major advantages of this is that it gives us direct access to long haul destinations like China where most of our tourists come from,” he said.
“It is a positive development for us in tourism since our growth depends on a reliable air transport system.”
As Acting President Chiwenga toured the plane, he walked along the aisle, quiet as if in contemplation.
After a few minutes, he turned towards Minister Matiza and said: “The baby is home.”
Indeed, the baby is home, a welcome development that had Airzim administrator Reggie Saruchera repeatedly thanking the Government for a timely intervention.