Zimbabwe is investing in improving the nation’s airports and air traffic management structure to meet a growing demand for tourism and business traffic.
Chief executive of the country’s civil aviation authority, David Chawota, says a tender process for the air traffic management upgrades is under way and implementation would begin in early 2014. He adds work is already under way for the redevelopment of Victoria Falls International airport.
“Victoria Falls is one of the world’s great tourism spots but there have been few direct long-haul flights. We are now building a 4km runway that will enable airlines to operate direct to Victoria Falls and from there to other key tourism destinations,” Chawota says.
The plans for Victoria Falls include a new terminal building which will extend the airport’s capacity to two million passengers per year – quadrupling its current capacity.
“Tourism is our number-one business,” Chawota says. “We work closely with our neighbours Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana and other members of the Southern African Development Community [SADC]. We have access to places like the Kruger. We recognise that we are one market and so have direct links to other destinations such as Angola, Namibia and Cape Town.”
Zimbabwe’s second-biggest industry is mining and it has seen growth in trade with China and other Far Eastern countries, which now access Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, through Emirates' direct routes from Dubai. Other airlines serve Harare through Johannesburg but Chawota says airlines are now resurrecting direct flights to the capital.
“Harare has capacity for 2.5 million passengers but currently we serve just over a million. We are doubling the number or air bridges and are prepared for the future,” he said.
One major boost for business at Harare will be through the country’s national carrier Air Zimbabwe, whose long-standing chief executive Innocent Mavhunga is working with the government to resurrect the ailing flag carrier.
Although Zimbabwe's GDP per capita remains the second lowest in the world, the decision to abandon its local currency in 2009 brought a welcome end to hyperinflation. Economic growth has averaged 7.5% since dollarisation, and amid slow but steady progress the government is focusing again on its transport strategy.
Air Zimbabwe resumed domestic services in April of this year, restoring links from capital city Harare to Victoria Falls and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city.
"We are slowly reclaiming our routes, both in the region and internationally," Mavhunga says, noting that Johannesburg flights are also under way. "We hope to restore normal operations over the next six to 12 months," he adds.