AirZim to resume regional flights

HARARE - Air Zimbabwe (Pvt) Ltd (AirZim) is expected to resume regional flights within the next four weeks, Transport minister Nicholas Goche says.

This follows Tourism minister Walter Muzembi’s April statement that the national airline would restart flights by June this year to support the tourism sector ahead of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly which the country co-hosts with Zambia in August 2013, but has remained grounded on account of viability challenges and an accumulating debt — now in excess of $150 million.

Goche told businessdaily after a tour of the runway refurbishment exercise at Harare International Airport on Tuesday that the airline plans to re-start by resuming the Harare-Johannesburg route with two flights per week.

“We will be flying regional within the next four weeks, we will be flying to Johannesburg starting with twice per week and looking to increase the frequencies to four times a week within a short period,” he said.

Soon after announcing plans to assume AirZim’s debt at the end of 2011, government disbanded the company, formerly Air Zimbabwe Holdings, to create a new and debt-free AirZim in the face of growing competition from international airlines that are flocking to Harare.

Civil Aviation Authority (Caaz) chief executive David Chaota said the country was intensifying efforts to attract more international airlines and will attending the World Routes Development Forum in Abu Dhabi to market the country as a viable route.

“This platform is like an auction and we will be engaging everyone especially airlines we have worked well with before,” said Chaota.

“We will be looking at signing bilateral air service agreements between governments that why we are also going with (Transport secretary Munesu) Munodawafa.”

Earlier this month, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority chief executive Karikoga Kaseke said British Airways was next year expected to start flying to Harare, adding to the number of international and regional airlines that land on Zimbabwe’s runways.

Emirates started flying to Harare this year and has since increased frequencies while Air Namibia also resumed flights to Harare.

South African Airways has announced plans to expand its route network into Harare with the launch of its Durban-Harare route starting October 3.

Kaseke said KLM Royal Dutch Airlines was expected to start flying to Harare this year while Qatar Airways Company should start flying into Harare next year.

Goche’s department licensed budget airline Fresh Air and Sol Aviation Private Limited (Sol Air) to start servicing major domestic routes.

Sol Air was granted the Harare-Kariba-Victoria Falls-Kariba-Harare and the Victoria Falls-Buffallo Range-Victoria Falls routes as well as the Harare-Beira, Harare-Maputo and Harare-Tete regional routes.

Sol Air financiers and advisers say the company faces collapse unless it secures lucrative domestic and regional routes, which he claims are reserved for struggling flag carrier Air Zimbabwe.

Nkosilati Sibanda, Sol Air managing director, told the tourism all-stakeholders meeting his company needs profitable routes like the Harare-Bulawayo and Harare Victoria Falls routes and the Harare-Johannesburg routes to start operations and develop the other routes.

He says developing unproven routes will take at least two years, a position which the airline could not afford.

In response to this Goche confirmed the Harare-Bulawayo route and the Harare-Victoria Falls as well as the Harare-Johannesburg routes were reserved for Air Zim.

“When they apply, they indicate the routes they want and we are saying, as a responsible ministry and AirZim shareholder, they can have any route they want, but we say Harare-Bulawayo-Victoria Falls or Harare-Johannesburg is not available. Any other route is available and they can ply.”

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