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‘Airports expansion will boost passenger handling capacity’

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BY FREEMAN MAKOPA
THE Airports company of Zimbabwe (ACZ) says planned and ongoing expansion projects of the country’s airports will boost passenger handling capacity to 9,2 million annually, from 5,5 million currently.

Extended handling capacity will give impetus to Zimbabwe’s efforts to rebuild its tourism industry, which suffered the hardest knocks when COVID-19 pandemic curbs paralysed global economies in 2020 and 2021.

Bigger airports would also be crucial in facilitating regional trade as the African Continental Free Trade Area gains momentum, unlocking opportunities into a US$3,4 trillion regional market.

ACZ chief executive officer, Tawanda Gusha told NewsDay Business that an additional 3,5 million capacity would come on stream on completion of the expansion of the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport (RG) in the coming months.

Government has injected about US$153 million to rebuild the facility, the third such undertaking following similar projects at Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport in Bulawayo and Victoria Falls International Airport.

Over 50% of the RG project has been completed, Gusha said, adding that ACZ plans to add a further 200 000 capacity through the expansion of Charles Prince Airport in Harare.

“We are adding 3,5 million from this RG airport,” Gusha told NewsDay Business.

“Currently we are at about 5,5 million throughout the country. If we add 3,5 million, we will be at nine million per annum. If we manage to find the partners to develop Charles Prince Airport, that will probably be another 200 000 or so capacity added to the nine million. This is the overall picture that we have in the country,” he added.

Before current projects got underway, Zimbabwe had expanded the Victoria Falls Airport at a cost of US$150 million in 2016, extending its capacity to 1,5 million passengers per year, from about 500 000.

Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) director-general Elijah Chingosho recently said air passenger numbers into Zimbabwe’s airports would rise above pre-pandemic levels this year, as traffic improves in the aftermath of hard lockdowns globally.

Chingosho said the number of international and local airlines servicing Zimbabwean destinations will rise by 80% compared to 2019, when the carriers moved 1,5 million people.

This represents growth of almost three million passengers this year, a big positive trajectory for an industry that was battered by pandemic curbs at the height of the
COVID-19 scourge between 2020 and 2021.

Airlines carried 430 000 and 740 000 respectively during the two years, according to CAAZ data.

The CAAZ boss said Zimbabwe’s performance was expected to better the African averages this year.

However, across the continent, the outlook would be positive, he said.

“Africa’s passenger traffic prospects are somewhat weaker in the near-term due to slow progress in vaccinating the population, and the impact of the crisis on developing economies,” Chingosho said.

According to the International Air Transport Association, African passenger numbers are expected to recover more gradually than in other regions, reaching 76% of 2019 levels in 2022 and surpassing pre-crisis levels only in 2025.

“Zimbabwe aviation industry prospects for recovery remain very high above regional average. Zimbabwe passenger traffic is expected to reach over 80% of 2019 levels by year-end, 2022, making the future bright. Rising demand for air travel following removal of COVID-19 travel restrictions by several States will drive traffic. The coming in of new airlines into the Zimbabwean market (including) Qatar Airways, Eurowings Discover, Eswatini Air, Kuva Air operated by Executive Air and the return of Air Botswana will increase passenger numbers,” Chingosho noted, adding that several airlines had increased frequencies on domestic routes.

“The aviation industry is poised to grow just as the global aviation industry is growing as we position ourselves according to the dictates of International Civil Aviation Organisation. This drive puts the industry at par with other players.”

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