Zimbabwe's government has criticized the cash-strapped national airline for flying unviable routes, including one trip which saw an Air Zimbabwe jet fly 6,000 km (3,728 miles) from Dubai with a solitary passenger aboard.

The official Herald newspaper Monday quoted Transport and Communications Secretary Karikoga Kaseke as saying Air Zimbabwe, struggling with chronic fuel shortages caused by the country's acute economic crisis, was a victim of "inept management."

Local media reported earlier this month that Air Zimbabwe's maiden flight to Dubai, a Boeing 737, left with 49 passengers on board and made the return flight with just one.

"Our investigations have revealed that no proper market research was done before they (Air Zimbabwe) engaged on the Dubai trip," the Herald quoted Kaseke as saying.

"It reflects the level of mediocrity of the management at Air Zimbabwe and it also reflects a management that has little knowledge of aviation, a management that acts on hearsay," he added.

Kaseke and Air Zimbabwe officials could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

Industry officials say Air Zimbabwe has also been forced to delay several flights in recent weeks because of fuel shortages dating back to 1999 which have worsened over the past month.

The fuel crunch, together with shortages of foreign currency and basic commodities like sugar, cooking oil and milk, are part of an economic slide many blame on President Robert Mugabe's policies, including the seizure of white-owned farms for landless blacks.

Kaseke denied the government, isolated from Western countries mainly over the land seizures, had forced Air Zimbabwe to fly routes to Asia and Arab countries under a "Look East" policy of boosting economic ties with those regions.

Mugabe denies mismanaging the country since taking power at independence from Britain in 1980, and says the former colonial ruler has led an international assault on Zimbabwe's economy through sanctions slapped in retaliation for the land redistribution program.


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