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Foreign airlines influx: AirZim the missing link

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AS THE national carrier Air Zimbabwe (AirZim) continues to stutter, several foreign airlines have been making inroads into the country and in so doing, filling a void left by the troubled entity.

Report by Mernat Mafirakurewa  Acting Business Editor

Perhaps what has kept AirZim flying since the introduction of the multicurrency system in 2009 is the monopoly it enjoys on domestic routes, mainly the Harare-Bulawayo-Victoria Falls, while foreign airlines have cashed in on the lucrative international routes. AirZim has curiously avoided international routes, which, however, have the potential to bankroll its operations.

Once regarded as southern Africa’s hub because of its centrality, the “lost decade,” which began at the turn of the millennium in 2000 to 2010, has seen Harare losing out to South Africa and Nairobi, Kenya, which have now become key entry points into sub-Saharan Africa.

Although the Harare International Airport has capacity to handle 2,5 million visitors annually, it is currently operating at 20% capacity –a far cry from its peak period in 1999.

Between 2000 and 2007, 45 airlines serviced the Harare route before discontinuing operations due to the political turmoil that gripped the country back them.

But are things about to change?

In a space of 48 hours between Monday and Tuesday this week KLM Royal Dutch and LAM Mozambique airlines relaunched their services to Harare as the revival of the country’s travel and tourism sector moves a gear up. It is tragic though that the revival of the lucrative tourism sector was progressing without AirZim.

Efforts to unbundle the airline has so far failed to yield positive results.

Another major airline, Emirates began servicing the Harare-UAE-Asia-Washington routes in February followed by Zambezi as well as Air Namibia.

Tanzanian-based Precision Air is also reportedly eyeing the Harare route, which has increasingly become profitable to foreign airlines. South African Airways, Kenya Airways, Air Botswana, Ethiopian Airways, BA Comair, Airlink, TAAG already service the Harare routes.

In the rush for the local airspace, local companies Beks Safaris, Wilderness Safaris and diamond mining firm, Anjin, have also applied for licences to the Air Services Board for permission to ply various routes in the country and elsewhere.

Recently, another local company Sol Air was granted permission to ply some local routes, precisely Harare-Kariba.

Given the latest developments, will the crowding of the country’s airspace help revive and/or boost the economy after that lost decade or not?  It is time serious consideration was needed to liberalise the airspace. There was need to ensure increased tourists arrivals and export of horticultural products, among other goods, for the benefit of the country’s economy.

The scaling down of operations by AirZim could have laid several bottlenecks in the paths of those seeking to travel or do business.

But the renewed interest from foreign airlines should push the government to take decisive action to revive AirZim’s sagging fortunes.

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