Air Transport World

Air Zaire improving with help from UTA. (Union de Transports Aeriens)

Air Zaire improving with help from UTA

Hard times are nothing strange to Air Zaire. Receiving less than total support from the government in recent years, the debt-ridden flag carrier of Zaire was at its lowest point in 1985 when one of its McDonnell Douglas DC-8s was impounded in Belgium for several months on the demand of lawyers representing foreign pilots who had not received their salaries. To enable the company to continue operating cash was needed and this was obtaining through the sale of one of Air Zaire's two McDonnell Douglas DC-10s and the subsequent sale/lease-back of the other.

While 20 years ago Air Zaire had a fleet of 26 aircraft including a Boeing 747, today the airline has just seven--one DC-10, two DC-8s, two Boeing 737s and two Fokker F27s. Lack of spares results in only one 737 and one F27 being programmed to fly most days of the week.

Bad as Air Zaire's situation may seem it is considerably better than it was in early 1986 when UTA took over the management of the company under a six-year contract. The French airline's management team headed by Hubert Andrade has introduced a series of rationalization measures and has paid particular attention to improving staff morale by upping the previous abysmally low pay scales and ensuring that salaries and wages are paid on time.

This is not the first time that a foreign airline has been called on to assist Air Zaire. As the national carrier of the former Belgian Congo, Air Zaire (originally known as Air Congo) had close ties with Sabena for several years after its foundation in 1961. It was the Belgian airline that supplied support in the technical and operational fields under contractual arrangements until 1967. Between 1971 and 1977 Pan American provided management and technical assistance.

Since 1968 Air Zaire has been entirely owned by Zairean interests with the government as the majority shareholder. In recent years information about the company's capital structure and financial situation has been difficult to obtain with no annual reports being distributed and neither the International Air Transport Association (IATA) nor the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) being supplied with financial data on Air Zaire. …

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