Prosper Ndlovu, Business Editor
BULAWAYO is strategically positioned to attract more international flights, which is good for luring increased investment into the city and the surrounding regions.
Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport general manager, Mr Passmore Dewa, said this in an interview on the sidelines of the official launch of Fastjet’s Bulawayo-Johannesburg route last Thursday.
The city is now being serviced by four airlines, Air Zimbabwe, which plies the Bulawayo-Harare route while SA Airlink, Fastjet and SA Express, which officially began its flights on Friday following its recent launch, all ply the Bulawayo-Johannesburg route.
“Our flight time between Bulawayo and Johannesburg takes an average time of 1-hour 10min and Bulawayo-Harare about 40min. This is the convenience of flying,” said Mr Dewa.
He said Bulawayo was among the best flight links to key regional destinations such as Johannesburg in South Africa, Luanda in Angola, Nairobi in Kenya, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Zambia and Botswana.
“The flight times for all these destinations is within three hours and it’s convenient for travellers. Bulawayo as you know, was strategically built. The railway system for the region converges here and so is the road. We can then complement these with air travel,” he said.
“The new dispensation has declared Zimbabwe open for business and that complements our ‘open skies’ drive as the aviation industry. We are saying anyone who wants to come to the country should be allowed to come easily.”
The capacity utilisation of the JMN Nkomo Airport had long been hovering around 11 percent due to limited traffic but with the latest route launches by Fastjet and SA Express, it is expected to jump to about 25 percent, said Mr Dewa.
The coming in of new airlines to Bulawayo has excited the market.
Professional Business Association of Zimbabwe president, Dr Lucky Mlilo, said Bulawayo’s re-industrialisation drive requires efficient air transport connectivity.
“This is a good development. We have been waiting for more airlines to come especially between Bulawayo and Johannesburg. This is a good opportunity for business travellers.
“We hope the fares will be competitive because of increased competition. Time is money and efficient air travel cuts costs of having business executives incurring accommodation costs after a day’s meeting.
“The tourism sector here in Bulawayo is also expected to benefit more and this is a great moment for Bulawayo. We still need more flights given the strategic linkage the city has with the rest of the region.”
Bulawayo Mayor Councillor Solomon Mguni said the city holds a prime position as the gateway to the southern region. As such, he said, the launch of new airlines was expected to attract interest from the surrounding mining, tourism and farming businesses. He expressed hope that increased air travel would also translate into better business opportunities for the city in terms of investment.
“Bulawayo has an outstanding history in that the first flight into then Southern Rhodesia, the Silver Queen, happened here on the 5th of March 1920,” said Cllr Mguni.
“We hope these new flights will contribute into the restoration of the city’s glamour as this contributes to our smart city vision. We hope the flights will facilitate improved global linkage and promote employment creation. This adds value on Bulawayo as the hub of industry growth.”