Leonard Ncube in Victoria Falls
INTERNATIONAL airlines have expressed excitement over Zimbabwe’s investment in upgrading its airport infrastructure.
Rwanda Air and Ethiopian Airways have already indicated plans to start flying into Harare and the new-look Victoria Falls in January and April next year respectively.
Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) general manager Mr David Chawota said they were seized with discussions with different airlines as appetite to service local routes, especially through Victoria Falls, increases.
In an interview on the sidelines of the 48th Africa Airlines Association (AFRAA) Annual General Assembly here, Mr Chawota said several airlines were showing increased interest in Zimbabwe due to the state of the aviation facilities.
President Mugabe last Friday officially commissioned the new-look Victoria Falls International Airport whose upgrading cost $150 million.
“At a chief executive officers’ session on Monday, participants commended the Zimbabwean Government for putting up such magnificent and appealing aviation structures. Everyone appreciates the airport and some airlines have picked our slogan that Victoria Falls is a game changer,” said Mr Chawota.
He added: “We have discussions with some airlines that would want to fly into the country and there is a big possibility that during the 1st or 2nd quarter of next year we may have a number of airlines coming into the country especially through Victoria Falls as there is keen interest.”
Mr Chawota said Ethiopian Airways has already made a decision to fly into Zimbabwe.
“Ethiopian Airways have made a decision and will start flying into Victoria Falls in the first two weeks of April next year,” he said.
The East African airliner is one of the biggest on the continent and on Monday night it won an award courtesy of AFRAA for being the best airliner on the continent.
The giant airliner is expected to fly more than three times a week into the country.
“Ethiopian Airways are big and I am excited that we have just opened Victoria Falls International Airport and we are already making headway,” Mr Chawota later told journalists at a press conference.
He said the interest shown by different airlines was an exciting development as far as aviation is concerned.
“Our Government expects us to integrate airlines and facilitate business and with these developments taking place, very soon there will be alternative routes to Europe, India or Dubai without having to go via South Africa and the Emirates and this also brings competition,” said Mr Chawota.
Rwanda Air chief executive officer Mr John Mirenge, who takes over the presidency of AFRAA from Captain Ripton Muzenda (Air Zim CEO), confirmed they will be flying into Harare early January.
“We are starting flights into Harare in January next year and we are looking at four times a week,” he said.
“We have had discussions and the ball is in our court and I am very excited about having come to this AFRAA. We are looking forward to extending some of the flights to Victoria Falls in future because there is good infrastructure here.”
Mr Mirenge said the new route will definitely open business opportunities between the two countries by shortening travelling time and distance where it takes 22 hours to fly from Kigali to Victoria Falls via Nairobi, Lusaka and Harare.
“With a direct product I have no doubt business between the two countries will start,” he said.
Rwanda Air currently operates in 18 African countries, with Dubai as the only outside Africa destination.
Mr Mirenge said they will early next year start London, India and United States routes.
At the conference, delegates appreciated the quality of Victoria Falls International Airport, which President Mugabe commissioned last Friday.
CAAZ took some of the delegates on a tour of the new look airport on Sunday resulting in many developing interest in opening routes. The two airlines will add to the 15 foreign that operate in Zimbabwe where only three-Air Zimbabwe, Fast Jet and Cargo Airline are local.
Meanwhile, Mr Chawota was grateful for efforts of stakeholders towards implementation of CAAZ projects.
“As CAAZ we would want to commend the business community and tourism industry in Victoria Falls for the good work they are doing. They are with us and very active in this endeavour”.
While commissioning Victoria Falls International Airport last Friday, President Mugabe challenged the Ministries of Transport and Tourism as well as CAAZ to market the airport and bring in tourists and airlines.
The Government has also facilitated the upgrading of the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport in Bulawayo and Buffalo Range Airport in Masvingo province as part of its key infrastructure projects under Zim-Asset.