AirZim faces stiff challenge

Itai Dzamara

AIR Zimbabwe’s flight to China could fail to generate profits for the national airline because of stiff competition from Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airways and South African Airways.

The national airline officially launched its service to Singapore and Beijing last month. It is having to undercut rivals on the same route to attract customers. This is likely to impact negatively on the national airline’s capacity to show a profit from its much-trumpeted new schedule.

South African Airways has daily flights between Johannesburg and Singapore as well as Hong Kong where code-sharing partners such as Cathay Pacific pick up passengers to other points in China, while Kenya Airways has daily flights between Nairobi and Hong Kong. It has KLM as a technical partner.

Kenya Airways also flies to Harare three times a week and redistributes passengers to the Far East from its hub in Nairobi.

Ethiopian Airways has two flights to China a week, which pass through Johannesburg.

The three airlines, which have better standards and international reputations than Air Zimbabwe, are likely to continue attracting the bulk of travellers from southern Africa to the Far East.

Air Zimbabwe launched its inaugural flight to Beijing via Singapore last month. Acting managing director Oscar Madombwe said last week soon after the airline’s Boeing 767 returned from China that Air Zimbabwe would provide two flights to China a week.

Madombwe admitted that the airline faced stiff competition from established regional carriers.

“There is very stiff competition indeed,” he said. “As you would appreciate, Johannesburg is currently the hub of international travellers and there is Ethiopian Airways flying to Beijing while Kenya Airways and South African Airways also have flights to China,” he said. “There are a number of things that we need to improve, especially on standards, in order to compete favourably.”

Air Zimbabwe will continue charging a promotional fare of US$1 000 for the return ticket to China, while the other airlines are charging between US$1 500 and $1 800, a factor which could affect the national airline’s viability on the route.

Madombwe confirmed that the promotional fare would be used for some time.

“The operational fare of US$1 000 will be used at least up to the end of the year because we want to attract clients. I acknowledge that it affects viability but we have to adopt such measures to penetrate the market.”

Madombwe said he didn’t have the figures for bookings to date. “But I think the main source of our market must be China.”

Air Zimbabwe has two long-haul Boeing 767s, one of which will be plying the China route while the other plies the lucrative Harare-London route.