Air Zimbabwe has failed to switch over to a new US$200 000 ($164.8 million) booking system purchased to curb a multi-million dollar ticket scam, with technical hitches in the installation of the programme forcing employees to resort to manual ticketing and cutting the national airliner off from local and international terminals, the Financial Gazette has established.

Company officials said Air Zimbabwe was supposed to switch over from its old ticketing system to the new one on Saturday, but the system failed to transfer crucial data and the switch over or "migration" to the new software failed. The new system was purchased from an American firm called World Span and more than 20 Air Zimbabwe officials travelled to the United States for negotiations on the acquisition of the software and for training on how to use it.

Air Zimbabwe insiders said more than US$200 000 was spent in the purchase of physical infrastructure for the new programme and to link the airline to an international booking system run by World Span. The booking system was supposed to close loopholes in the national airline’s old ticketing procedures. The loopholes have been used by employees to prejudice Air Zimbabwe of millions of dollars in a scam in which several passengers were flown to the United Kingdom without paying any money to the airline. Air Zimbabwe officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the switchover had still not been effected by yesterday, with staff still completing ticketing procedures manually.

"No-one has been able to pick out the problem, but there are no print-outs for bookings right now, no printed tickets and the whole system has been in shambles since Saturday," an official at the parastatal told the Financial Gazette. "The tickets are being done manually and there is no link between reservations and departure control at the airport and with other terminals such as London, Victoria Falls and Bulawayo. The system has failed to link up even with travel agencies and other airlines."

There was no comment from Air Zimbabwe managing director Rambai Chingwena, who was said to be attending meetings. Air Zimbabwe insiders however said it was not clear at this stage whether the fault was with World Span or with the airline’s equipment or how the company’s management planned to resolve the problem. The officials said Air Zimbabwe had awarded the booking system tender to the American company despite being recommended to use Sat International, a United States-based firm that has successfully installed new booking and ticketing systems for Ethiopian Airlines and Air Botswana. Under the contract with World Span, which the officials said they believed was signed in October, Air Zimbabwe has to pay about US$2,000 a month to the US company.

The officials said several delegations from Air Zimbabwe travelled to the United States for negotiations and training for periods of between one and two weeks and were each paid allowances of US$500 per day. The negotiations were coordinated by Leslie Machado, Air Zimbabwe’s general sales agent in California, while the project manager in Zimbabwe was Ben Makwarimba, the acting sales manager, the Air Zimbabwe insiders said. Makwarimba was said to be out of the office and had not returned calls by late yesterday.

"Some of the people were only sent there so they could get allowances. How can someone from finance go on such technical trips that have little or no relevance to their department?" an official with the national airline said. The officials said if the technical problems in the new system were not speedily resolved, Air Zimbabwe could be prejudiced of more money by employees involved in the ticket racket that the company is attempting to curb.

Financial Gazette