Zimbabwe’s aviation sector – a review by Nunurai Ndawana

 

 

Views from Harare on sports and savvy lifestyle

New Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, A time to grow…

 

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African Aviation Godfather Germa Wake puts it across “Africa needs connections between African cities and not just long range point to point“.

In 1949 the government of Rhodesia purchased Kentucky and Adair farms east of Salisbury now Harare which was 2700 acres, for the development of an airport. This was done after the then current airport in Belvedere could not sustain commercial aviation activities. 

This history of Harare International Airport now Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport can be defined in two pictures or should I say mixed feelings. In the late 90’s its crowing was the landing of the now retired concord aircraft. The over flow of passengers in the current domestic terminal waiting to board flights to Paris, London , Sydney, Vienna, Cairo, Frankfurt and any other major destination was a common feature. The airport was stretched with a peak of 2.28million passengers and 45 airlines in 1996.  

Authorities responded by constructing a much bigger and modern terminal building to accommodate the growing number of passengers. Unfortunately when the terminal came, the airlines flew off; constituting a record low of 0.834millionpassengers in 2003. This was against a common correlation in aviation which states that “if you built it, airlines will come”.Looking back the weakening Zimbabwean economy was not encouraging and it was not simply viable for airlines to operate to Harare. 

Fast forward to 2016 when the new Victoria Falls International Airport was commissioned, traffic started building back to Zimbabwe. Years of destination marketing by the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe and its partners started baring fruit.

Recently Zimbabwe has been attracting interest from all business sectors. This is largely attributed to new country image and the events of November 2017. Lonely Planet listed Zimbabwe as the third must visit destination in the world for 2019 and preparations for the imminent surge in traffic must be done.

Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Development Project was commissioned on 23 July 2018 by H.E E.D Mnangagwa. The decision to upgrade the airport was in response to the surging number of passengers and to provide a facility that is modern and enhancing the passenger experience and service delivery. 

 “if you built it, airlines will come”.

Construction will be done in a two phase approach, with the extensions on either sides being done first. A new arrival and departure concourse will be constructed and completed in the first phase. All operations will be moved to the new fixtures paving way to the refurbishment works at the current terminal. 

Following the completion of all stages, the total capacity will be 6 million passengers per annum up from the current 2 million. Aircraft will be able to use a new runway andtaxiways. The later stage of development of the airport will see the construction of an airport hotel through a partnership model, multi-story carpark and a shopping centre. 

Like Victoria Falls International airport before it, RGMIA will be a pioneer in sustainability making use of natural lighting and bio-mimicry in aeration. Passengers will experience a modern feel with bag-drop systems that allow passengers to check in their luggage quickly and easily. A world-class shopping experience awaits the passengers with food outlets that will offer both African inspired menus and the contemporary offering. 

Zimbabwe stone sculptures are known and celebrated worldwide. The CAAZ is working with the Zimbabwe National Art Gallery in identifying art pieces by leading Zimbabwean sculptors and artists that will be displayed throughout the airport to symbolize the renaissance of Zimbabwe. 

Harare is a highly attractive destination for tourists and investors under the new dispensation; an estimated 65% visitors travel by air to Harare. But this growth requires adequate infrastructure for smooth facilitation. Zimbabwe is growing in the aviation sector with initial targets being returning to the 90’s glory days. The current airport has vast limitations in handling modern wide-body aircraft hence the need to upgrade.

Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport is the answer to these demands, considering Zimbabwe’s central geographic position serving most Southern African countries with a 2 hour flight time. Harare’s unique central advantage plays in the hands of Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM)of having more African cities linked with 2-3 hour flights. Harare is linked to 12 central and east African cities within a narrow body flight range of 3 and half hours. 

The Embraer range of aircraft has the capacity to enhance and improve Africa’s inter connectivity. Loads within the continent ranges an average of 63%, making the E-jets or turbo-props perfect for the inter connectivity. Developments at the RG Mugabe International Airport provide perfect facilities for such aircrafts to operate to and from. 

As African Aviation Godfather Germa Wake puts it across “Africa needs connections between African cities and not just long range point to point”. Harare with its central location and the upgrading of the RG Mugabe International Airport puts it in a perfect position to offer these intra Africa connections. 

The new history for Robert Gabriel Mugabe International is that of an alternative continental hub and a hub for intra-Africa connectivity. Intra-Africa connectivity will address oneperennial challenge of African Aviation, which are smooth connections with Africa without leaving the African continent. 

Intra-African connectivity has the potential to grow the economies of the African states through the movement of goods, services and people.  As SAATM encourages, these connections will be done through the use of narrow bodyaircrafts that are ideal for the African markets. Short hops or regional services have the potential to offer more frequencies and in the process create jobs through linking markets and offering passengers a convenient service. 

CAAZ cannot do this alone. There is no country that has grown its economy without a vibrant national airline; I cannot imagine Dubai without Emirates. Rwanda is an example with RwandAir leading the revival and repositioning of Rwanda as the Singapore of Africa. Zimbabwe will need collaborative efforts from the Tourism Authority, revived Air Zimbabwe and industry support. What this will mean is that the tourism agency will create an appetite for people to visit Zimbabwe and Air Zimbabwe will provide them with the connections. 

As the industry saying goes, if you build it airlines will come. All ingredients are on the ground to make Harare a regional aviation hub. Yet again an opportunity for the airport to write itself some new history.

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