IN a move likely to further hurt Zimbabwe’s economic recovery efforts and the tourism sector, South African Airways (SAA) has halved its direct flights to the prime resort town of Victori
a Falls due to the low volume of traffic.
Prior to the move, SAA flew directly to Victoria Falls at least 14 times a week, but it will now only have seven flights.
Officials at SAA, one of Africa’s largest airlines, said the South African flagship had launched new direct flights from Johannesburg to Livingstone just across the Zambezi.
At its peak in 1997, tourism contributed 6,5% to the gross domestic product, but since the 2000 farm invasions the sector’s operations have hit rock-bottom.
SAA manager for Zimbabwe Getrude Banda this week confirmed the latest move.
“We will be starting three direct flights to Livingstone with effect from Saturday. We will now have seven flights to Victoria Falls instead of 14,” she said. “But we will keep our options open on the Victoria Falls route.”
Banda said they had not seen a major improvement in terms of traffic from Zimbabwe.
“This is a game of numbers. There has been a 15% decline of passenger uplifts from Zimbabwe since 2003.”
Operators in the aviation industry have over the past five years grappled with shortages of foreign currency and low traffic volumes. The sector has also been dogged by uncertainty over the availability of Jet A1 fuel in the country.
A number of airlines have been forced to either re-fuel in South Africa or in Zambia while many have dropped their flights to Zimbabwe altogether.
Some of the major international airlines that have stopped flying into Zimbabwe are Austrian, Swissair, Lufthansa, Balkan, Qantas and KLM.
Meanwhile, Banda confirmed there were negotiations going on for a possible business partnership between Air Zimbabwe and SAA.
“We did sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Air Zim-babwe earlier this year but other discussions are taking place,” she said.
“I cannot say anything more on that. Talk to Air Zimbabwe for further details.”
Air Zimbabwe general manager Tendai Mahachi could not be reached for comment as he was said to be out of the country.
The overtures to SAA by Air Zimbabwe will also include the possibilities of sharing facilities and codes.