Africa Moyo, Harare Bureau
Government says the “managed liberalisation” of domestic routes to allow other airlines such as fastjet will not negatively impact on Air Zimbabwe’s revival chances, Transport and Infrastructural Development Minister Dr Joram Gumbo said.
He said this in a speech read on his behalf by the Director — Aviation and Rail in the ministry, Mr Allowance Sango during celebrations to mark fastjet’s inaugural flight on the Harare-Bulawayo route last Friday.
There are concerns that allowing private players to ply domestic routes, particularly Harare-Bulawayo, would further damage Air Zimbabwe’s hopes of recovery.
But Dr Gumbo said having more players on the route was economically beneficial as connectivity would be enhanced.
“ . . . allow me to allay the fears that this liberalisation of our skies is likely to herald the demise of our national airline by pointing to a historic fact of the 1990s.
“During that period there was a lot of traffic into Bulawayo, and capacity utilisation of JMN (Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International) Airport was high due to the airport being serviced by two airlines, namely Air Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Express Airlines,” said Dr Gumbo.
He said during that period, the contribution of domestic travel was about 300 000 passengers per annum compared to current averages of 70 000 passengers.
Dr Gumbo believes that the more airlines a destination has, the more passengers are likely to be transported, a move that benefits “all stakeholders”.
“The current situation of 70 000 passengers per annum severely constrains further investments and development of JMN Airport and stifles business between the two cities (Harare and Bulawayo).
“Thus the policy thrust of opening up the route has also been adopted, in part, to reverse this untenable situation,” said Dr Gumbo.
Air Zimbabwe is currently battling a myriad of challenges dramatised by a high legacy debt of about $334 million, which has made it unattractive to potential strategic partners.
Government says it will merge the boards of Air Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Airways to ensure the two State-owned aviation firms collaborate in a bid to ensure profitability.
Zimbabwe Airways was established by Government in a bid to dodge debtors, some of whom were impounding planes to recover their money.
A major announcement on Air Zimbabwe will be made soon amid indications that the airline will get new smaller aircraft to ply domestic and regional routes, while Zimbabwe Airways’ four long haul planes acquired from Malaysia will ply intercontinental routes.
Meanwhile, Dr Gumbo said Government was happy that fastjet, a low cost airliner, has launched direct flights between Harare and Bulawayo.
Dr Gumbo said the launch of the Harare-Bulawayo route is a “culmination of concerns that were raised by players in the tourism and business sectors and the general travelling public who have been so justifiably demanding the opening up of this route”.
fastjet, which started operations in Zimbabwe on October 28, 2015, with six flights per week between Harare and Victoria Falls, will now ply the new route daily.
Government “looks forward to increased frequencies and their penetration into new destinations”.
fastjet general manager; accountable manager Ed Berry, said the company had been angling for the route since 2015, but was shut out by the previous regime.