Oliver Kazunga, Senior Business Reporter
THE construction of a new air traffic control tower and a fire station at the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport in Bulawayo will commence soon at a cost of $13 million.
Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) acting director general, Mrs Margaret Mantiziba, said this in an interview yesterday after a tour of the JMN International Airport by the Portfolio Committee on Transport and Infrastructural Development chaired by Cde Oscar Gorerino.
“We already have money set aside in the budget for $13 million that will help us start the Phase II of the JM Nkomo International Airport expansion project,” she said.
“This includes construction of a brand new air traffic control tower and the fire station. So, we are looking at the air traffic control starting off this year and we believe that in the next two years we should have completed this project.”
JMN International Airport was commissioned in 2013 after the facility went through a major facelift under the first phase of the rehabilitation programme.
Mrs Mantiziba said over $20 million was also required to do more projects under the airport’s Phase II expansion programme. The tour also saw the Portfolio Committee assessing the airport facilities such as the existing air traffic control tower, runway, makeshift fire station and CAAZ staff quarters to get an appreciation of the airport processes and procedures.
She said since the coming in of the new political dispensation in November 2017, there has been a growth in passenger movement at the JMN International Airport.
“We’ve just been seeing growth since the new dispensation came in and also they have already demonstrated the openness for business by opening up for other airlines like Fastjet to come in.
“So, that kind of stance does help to bring in more business. It’s a very positive development that we are seeing in the last year,” she said.
“Our figures for JMN International Airport are showing a positive growth. In 2018 we did very well as passenger movement rose from 149 620 in 2017 to 172 709, which is a significant increase.”
Overall, Mrs Mantiziba said the authority targets recorded 1,8 million passengers this year up from 1,6 million in 2018.
She said the recent approval by Government to have Fastjet increase its flight frequency to JM Nkomo International Airport was a step in the right direction as it would help increase the airport’s utilisation level from 10 percent at present.
“As we improve the conditions throughout the country we will have more players wanting to ply this particular route, which is Harare-JM Nkomo International Airport or Victoria Falls-JM Nkomo,” said Mrs Mantiziba.
CAAZ also hopes that Air Zimbabwe business volumes would pick up and have significant impetus on capacity utilisation of the JMN International Airport.
“And maybe going further, I think the possibilities are limitless in terms of other airline operators and other small aircraft operators coming in to JM Nkomo from other parts of the country and even from the region.
“JM Nkomo is strategically positioned to serve quite a number of countries in the region. Part of what we want to do and continue to do is to vigorously market this airport as a very viable option for a lot of airlines,” she said.
Briefing the portfolio committee after the tour, JMN International Airport manager, Mr Passmore Dewa, said there was need for Government departments to have coordinated operational procedures so as to improve how the country is perceived by visitors who come into the country using air services.
The committee was also informed that some local authorities were allocating land close to airports across the country to private property developers for construction of residential properties, which poses challenges to the airport operations. In a separate interview, Cde Gorerino said his committee had observed the need for Government to support the JMN International Airport given that it was being utilised at 10 percent capacity.
“What we have observed as a committee is that there is need for Government to support this kind of infrastructure and also the other impact is also coming to the effect that the cost of using the aviation system for travelling is a bit high. Considering the cost of living that we have at the moment, people are opting to use road,” he said.
“Those are the issues that are affecting the operational capacity of the airport. At the end of the day there is no support particularly from the international system where we are supposed to feed in given the volumes of people flying in for business and general travels.”
The committee chair said they would engage the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development to find ways of improving capacity utilisation at the airport to at least 30 percent.