South African Airways (SA, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) has been ordered by Zimbabwean High Court Judge Ephraim Tagu to pay USD877,435 dollars in outstanding "meteorological weather fees" to the country's Environment, Water and Climate Ministry for a period between 2006 and 2014, The Times newspaper has reported. The judgment was handed down to the struggling state-owned carrier following a six-year legal battle.

The original claim was made by Oppah Muchinguri Kashiri, the ministry's former head. She approached the High Court in February 2014 on the grounds that South African Airways (SAA) had been using Harare Int'l and Victoria Falls airports without paying the requisite fees since 2006.

Upon receiving the court summons, SAA declared it would not pay since there was nothing in law called "meteorological weather fees". The airline also accused the ministry and the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) of duplicating their roles and not communicating effectively with each other.

When responding to the SAA allegation, CAAZ, which became a party in the lawsuit, dismissed the role duplication claim and said that the airline was liable for the fees.

SAA also claimed that the ministry should only demand payment for fees after February 2014, however, Judge Tagu disagreed with the airline's reasoning. "My belief is that once someone has been assigned to administer any Statute, or a department, and finds that at the time of his or her takeover, that department is owed some money which debt was accrued before the takeover, there is nothing wrong for that person to take action to recover the debt owed before his or her takeover."

As a result, the judge decided that the ministry could not only claim for outstanding weather fees between 2006 and 2014, but that the airline should also pay the fees from May 1, 2014, to the date of the final payment.

SAA has said it will appeal the ruling which comes at a difficult time for the South African carrier as it entered into Business Rescue, the South African equivalent of US Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, on December 5, and has until the end of February to present its turnaround plan.