Air Zimbabwe (UM, Harare Int’l) has proposed restricting foreign carriers to Harare Int’l given concerns their use of Victoria Falls and Bulawayo has cannibalised traffic from the Zimbabwean capital, thereby impacting the state-owned carrier.
Speaking to The Sunday Mail newspaper, assistant administrator Tonderayi Mukubvu said restricting Zimbabwe to a single international gateway would force foreign carriers to use Air Zimbabwe for last-leg flights to other cities across the country in particular the tourism-dependent Victoria Falls.
“We are mulling to review our landing rights for all international flights. Our thinking is, as we develop Harare (the RGM International Airport) into a hub, currently we have other airlines flying direct into Victoria Falls, into Bulawayo. We are thinking these should fly into Harare and allow us to distribute all those passengers around Zimbabwe. By so doing we are effectively creating our own hub,” he said.
According to the ch-aviation schedules module, Victoria Falls and Bulawayo currently see 37 (19.68%) and 16 (8.51%) weekly international departures against Harare’s 135 (71.81%). In total, the secondary cities account for 28.2% of the country’s weekly international flights.
Zimbabwe’s international traffic had been largely restricted to Harare until November 2016 when a new 4,000 x 60 metre-long runway was opened in Victoria Falls. The USD150 million, Chinese funded strip has since allowed the deployment of widebody aircraft to the resort town with South African Airways and Ethiopian Airlines currently using A330 and B787 capacity on a near-daily basis.
In an effort to help tap the perceived economic benefits of Africa’s longstanding Open Skies proposal, known as the Yamoussoukro Decision but recently rebranded as the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), the Zimbabwean government has also begun granting 5th Freedom traffic rights to numerous foreign carriers.
While the practice was initially restricted to Harare, where the most-heavily trafficked 5th freedom route – Harare-Lusaka and v.v – is fought over by Emirates, Rwandair, Air Tanzania, TAAG Angola Airlines, Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, and Malawi Airlines, it has since been expanded to Victoria Falls where Kenya Airways has begun offering Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta-Victoria Falls-Cape Town and v.v flights. It is worth noting that Air Zimbabwe has been run out of the Lusaka market since the gates were thrown open to foreign competition.
The debt-ridden, state-owned airline is currently in the process of trying to restructure its business in an effort to attract a willing foreign investor. At present, Air Zimbabwe’s network has dwindled to a handful of routes including Harare to Bulawayo and Victoria Falls; Harare to Johannesburg O.R. Tambo and Dar es Salaam, and Victoria Falls to Johannesburg. Its only remaining operational aircraft, B767-200(ER) Z-WPF (msn 24867), was recently withdrawn from service until June 19 citing the need for mandatory maintenance. It is, however, looking to induct at least two E145s into service in an effort to reestablish its once prolific shorthaul domestic and regional network.