So, what if there was an airline that uses the Zimbabwean registry in order to get around most people’s idea of aviation safety, is almost certainly in cahoots with the Zimbabwean government, and was involved not just with running guns into the DRC in the late 90s but also with actual combat air missions, dropping napalm out of the back of Antonovs and operating Mi-24 gunships in support of the Zimbabwean army there?
You’d think it would be numero uno on the EU blacklist. But, incredibly, Avient Aviation (ICAO code SMJ) isn’t; even though it is widely suspected that some of the Chinese weapons shipment blacked by South African dockers was flown to Zimbabwe in their Il-76, Z-WTV, from a port in Angola. (The Il-76 is the last surviving T-model, and is therefore on its last legs; it came from a firm based in Sao Tome, using the 3C- Equatorial Guinea registry at the same time as Viktor Bout’s CET Aviation was.) You might be even more surprised to learn that Avient is actually allowed to base aircraft in the European Union – its pair of ancient DC-10s are regularly seen at Chalons-Vatry airfield in France.
What’s going on? Well, part of the answer may be the Gabonese angle to the whole thing. Avient had, for some time, a contract to handle cargo on behalf of Gabon Airlines. They took over, with the contract, an aged DC-8 imported from the Sudanese firm United Arabian Airlines, which is now registered Z-ALB with Avient. Now, it seems that Gabon doesn’t want Zimbabwe-registry aircraft, and neither does it want Avient bossAndrew Smith (“one of the most thoroughly despicable & unlikeable characters it’s ever been my displeasure to meet”). Fair enough, but you have to say that it probably had something to do with the French government threatening to put Gabon Airlines on a blacklist (President Bongo threatened to ban Air France from Libreville, but he was never likely to go through with it).
I can see the point in the French action, but what I don’t understand is why Avient are tolerated in their back yard, when they are apparently enough to warrant a diplomatic row with the darling of French African policy for the last forty years. And wipe that smirk off; Avient have done the Baghdad trail quite frequently, too.
I don’t know about you, but it strikes me that if you were looking for an economic sanction against Zimbabwe that was only likely to affect the elite, seizing the Avient DC10s on the ground at Vatry would be a cracker. Given their age and suspected condition, it could probably be put in effect just by having them ramp-checked by the safety inspectors.