Zambia Airways – When we went mad with capitalism and lost a jowel

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Zambia Airways plane

By Brian Mulenga

The names Lazaro, Chama, Mulundika, Mwenda, Lungu, Sakala may seem like ordinary names today. Back in the day, they were famous names. These were names of pilots, captains with Zambia Airways.

Way back in the early 1990s, on Thursday mornings, at Lusaka International Airport, you got to see the whole fleet of Zambia Airways line up and take off within a one hour period.

The ATRs would follow the DC-10 like baby geese following the mother goose then after a short interval the 737s would take to the air before the 757 cargo would also be in the air and then finally the DC-8 would take off.

As early as 0400,the hangar area would be bustling with engineers and technicians doing last minute checks. Tool boxes and electronic calibration instruments everywhere.

Upstairs, the inflight catering kitchens would be working overtime preparing meals for all the planes. Meanwhile in Ndeke House at Longacres the office lights would be on as the back office staff did all the paperwork for flights. The telex and fax machines would be chattering transmitting and receiving information.

In Chelstone, New and Old Brentwood in Longacres, Air Crew residences, Ndeke Hotel crew buses would be picking up people including pilots, aircrew, ground staff and the smoothly oiled machine that was Zambia Airways would be swinging into action.

In the road to the Airport, all kinds of cars would be streaming down the road, One man was known for his beautiful cars and his high speed dashes into the airport. Mr. Jasper Lungu, in his latest sports car would slash through traffic and flash through the police checkpoint at mind numbing speeds.

By 0630 the first flight would be ready. Zambia Airways, Thursday morning, 9 aircraft all in the the white and national flag livery would get read to take to the skies. Nairobi, London. Amsterdam, New York exotic places, places we only see in movies.

To 12 different cities across the world the Zambia Airways communications network would be transmitting instructions to station managers. The working day had started for 2,000 employees of Zambia Airways in Lusaka, New York, London, Harare, Amsterdam, Ndola, Johannesburg, Livingstone, Mumbai, Rome, Addis Ababa and they would be working on manifests, permits, overfly rights, flight plans etc.

At a stroke in a move that affects the Zambian economy to this day, a Zambian government committed in my mind the greatest act of treason and economic sabotage against Zambia in its history.

30 years of hard work, hundreds of millions of dollars in investment all flushed down the drain by a government with no foresight and a blind faith in capitalism. Zambia Airways had assets all over the world including hotels in Lusaka and Mauritius, office blocks in Lusaka,London, Harare, Mumbai. Housing units in Lusaka, Ndola, Livingstone, Harare, London, Mumbai.

The tragedy was horrendous, all of a sudden Lusaka became the international backwater it is today no direct flights from any world capital and the regional network that connected every capital in the sub region snapped.

Zambia Airways was admittedly in need of a cash injection but it was not yet in a terminally ill situation. Government dithering and interference was a particularly bad drag on its performance. Appointment of political hacks as CEO were the worst part of this. One CEO appointed by the MMD governemnt just after it got into power, had no experience at all in the aviation or tourism industry and had never been CEO of any company before. Rescued from humdrum retirement , after having been eased out of his last job at an FMCG company as Sales Manager, the man had been campaign manager for one of the MMD heavyweights and was made Zambia Airways CEO. The man was an unmitigated disaster.

By the time George Lewis came in with a dramatic plan to turn around the airline, he was stabbed in the back, A cabal of ministers and businessmen were waiting to launch their own private airline. The President conveniently disappeared from the country and over the phone ordered the Acting president General Miyanda to close the airline.

The resulting liquidation spanned the world with assets in Asia, Europe, North America, Africa all put under the hammer and sold.

The gleaming Zambia Airways hangar with state of the art equipment for maintatence of Boeing 707s, 737s, 757s, ATR-42s, DC-8, DC-10, HS-748, BAC 111 with electronic test beds, calibration and training equipment, a complete metal fabrication workshop, jigs, lathes, pillar drills, metal forming equipment was sold for a song, Representatives of airlines from all over the world came and helped themselves to spares at low prices.

Aircraft were seized by various banks all over the world, In London, in Israel, in Johannesburg.

2,000 jobs snuffed out just like that. Zambia Airways itself used to make over $80 Million in foreign exchange for Zambia every year,

Zambian Instructor captains, people respected across the aviation world, people who British Airways and British Caledonian before them would pay for to INSTRUCT THEIR PILOTS at BCAL training school in the UK became pilots flying clapped out Boeing 707s for a shoody cargo airline called DAS Air. Aircraft Engineers became taxi drivers. Air hostesses became anything they could do to make a living. Pensions, leave days, bonuses, overtime all just lost by a snap of a finger.

30 years of training pilot, engineers, aircrew, all that time and money just went to waste.

Today Zambia is a regional backwater. Its aviation industry struggling and feeble. One of the Zambia Airways pilots Tony Irwin runs Proflight the largest local airlines. The pilots are scattered all over the world Nigeria, the Gulf, Kenya, the US, one of them even became the personal pilot for a President.One air hostess, is now a famous politician.

I still look back on those Thursday mornings when the whole Zambia Airways fleet would line up and take off within a short span.

I hear the liquidation is now finally over and the final lid nailed into the Zambia Airways coffin after 22 years.

More updates


53 Responses to Zambia Airways – When we went mad with capitalism and lost a jowel

  1. I have enjoyed the reading and hope you will post one soon. I am a product of aviation industry

    August 24, 2017 at 11:41 am

    • Mr Mulenga,your story makes a sad reading but it’s truly. When I was training at ZASTI, I saw a lot of hope but to loose that at a blink of an eye was the saddest reality I ever experienced in my life. Anyway, thank you for the reminder. I had a rare opportunity to fly a flight captained by Captains Sakala and Chimney to Monrovia, Liberia on their route to New York City. Let me wipe my tear Ba Brian Mulenga.

      August 24, 2017 at 4:17 pm

    • Mr Mulenga,your story makes a sad reading but it’s truly. When I was training at ZASTI, I saw a lot of hope but to loose that at a blink of an eye was the saddest reality I ever experienced in my life. Anyway, thank you for the reminder. I had a rare opportunity to fly a flight captained by Captains Sakala and Chimbelu to Monrovia, Liberia on their route to New York City. Let me wipe my tear Ba Brian Mulenga.

      August 24, 2017 at 4:31 pm

  2. Please comment on this; we were made to believe at some point that on every flight, more than half of the passengers will either be employees, their dependents or government officials.

    August 24, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    • its true, family members and friends only paid half the fair.hope things will be different. a close friend of mine whose uncle worked for za visited london every xmas

      August 27, 2017 at 8:25 am

    • These are the mediocre ideas that politicians used to get this airline closed. I worked for Zambia Airways and MOST of my tickets were from OTHER airlines. It is in the airline family, brethren – I never once found a plane full of my colleagues and friends the few times I actually flew on a rebated Zambia Airways ticket. Eco tamuwinina ba makaka! Always dwelling on trivia without FACTS!!!

      August 27, 2017 at 9:11 am

  3. I learned a lot reading this!

    August 24, 2017 at 12:58 pm

  4. Good article, speaks volumes…

    August 24, 2017 at 1:24 pm

  5. You forgot Kawanu. But good article. I miss Zambia airways.

    Kawanu Kawanu
    August 24, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    • Add to the list Captain Gilbert Ngoma, Captain Alex Zoloumis, who married a beautiful former Miss Zambia Airways; Air Hostess Gomes.

      Gunyu Masaka
      August 26, 2017 at 9:35 pm

  6. Those were good days. I think better days are coming soon. Kwasala chabe pakono it shall be well.

    August 24, 2017 at 2:50 pm

  7. This made me almost shed tears

    Peace Maker
    August 24, 2017 at 2:55 pm

  8. What went wrong must not be repeated.
    We need success this time let it be pure business.

    August 24, 2017 at 3:11 pm

  9. Ohhh Zambia airways was a pride of the region.I suggest it comes back wth th same name no change.we have airlines that fly into zambia three to four times a means there’s good business..pls lts hv Zambia airways back on real business.

    DC 10..
    August 24, 2017 at 5:41 pm

  10. An animal called “African Politician was created to dismantle anything that is progressive. I have personally been involved in countless seminars set up by the Ministry of Transport trying to set-up a National airline, the Minister’s office is full of files from such seminars, yet nothing comes out of it!! Conmen even get involved in trying to procure aeroplanes for such exercises!! This country will NEVER ever have another successful airline for as long as the politicians get involved!!
    I know what i am talking about, because I have managed a successful small airline right here and have been in aviation operations all over the globe but have found my own country Zambia, the most backward in dealing with a technocrat.
    Keep on mourning, aviation is burried here! Little muzungu boys will keep flying these skies because all of us Veterans are slowly disappearing.
    Ask yourselves how a country can fail to run ZASTI!!! Its because of very DIM Politicians!!!

    August 25, 2017 at 2:29 pm

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    Silvia Odete Morani Massad
    August 28, 2017 at 1:17 am

  14. Captain Justin Lusambo.(late)
    Capatain Jasper Chibolela.
    Forgetten heros.

    August 29, 2017 at 11:07 am

    • True heroes of the Zambian skies!

      Biemba Maliti
      September 2, 2017 at 6:01 am

  15. I was suggested this web site through my cousin. I’m no longer sure whether this publish is written via him as no one else know such specific about my trouble.
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    August 30, 2017 at 8:19 am

  17. sad reading indeed. this is what greed can do.

    September 1, 2017 at 5:44 pm

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    September 2, 2017 at 12:52 am

  19. A very sad reading indeed.. I remember rushing to watch the Zambia Airways advert every time it came on T.V. as a child. I clearly remember my flight back from the UK on Zambia Airways. We ‘re getting better in every way..Now only but a memory..

    Busaka Chi
    September 2, 2017 at 1:13 am

  20. Very sad reading.Those were the good ol’ days!The late Capt.Justin Lusambo,capt.Jasper Chibolela,the late capt.Gilbert Ngoma,capt.Mutukwa etc unforgotten heroes!

    September 2, 2017 at 5:37 am

    • We will always remember them. Capt. Lusambo in his smart uniform and pilot bag waiting for the pickup vehicle.

      Biemba Maliti
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  22. Capt. Robinson Mubanga who also served as one of the Presidential pilots of 1st Republican President. Whatever happened was criminal. At the time QZ was one of the few airlines in the world with assets all over the world.

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  42. Guys, we must now focus on the following: 1. Which Zambians have we got with suitable experience in airlines, management, temperament, not corrupt, intelligent and patriotic able to head a new Zambia Airways?
    2. What type of fleet do we start with? How about with Dash 8 Q400 series for local flights, and a Boeing 737-800 for regional flights for a start?
    3. How about reclaiming Ndeke House, which was the HQ for Zambia Airways and compensating the people who bout the building?
    4. Returning back to the Hungers which Zambia Airways owned as a base for its technical work?
    5. Selecting about 50 best young Zambians from all provinces in their final Grade 12 to be sponsored as engineers and technicians for Zambia Airways upon the completion of their studies?

    January 10, 2018 at 6:09 am

  43. One addition: Zambia Airways had just purchased the MD 11 the next generation aircraft after the DC 10. This purchase was now cancelled, millions already paid towards the aircraft lost, and penalties running in millions of dollars were also paid!

    Statements about aircraft being full of staff are often spiced with jealous really. It was not unusual for staff to go to the airport and be returned without boarding. The rule was staff only boarded if there were unoccupied seats. This is the case for all carriers. The bottom line is, if staff were packing planes rather than customers, this would reflect poor management. What the airline needed was an overhaul/restructuring and cash infusion. Some assets could have been sold for this. Kenya airways has just gone thru some serious restructuring. You do not wipe out such an investment like we did. But then fast forward and you can see how we have learnt nothing: THE POST newspapers!!!!

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