NINE Airlines have proposed to fly into Zimbabwe this year in a development that could see increased traffic and revenue for the tourism sector if government approves the proposals, businessdigest has established.
The airlines are — Air France, Austrian Airlines, Egypt Air, Swiss Air, Bulgarian Airlines, Qantas, Emirates Airways, KLM and Lufthansa.
However, some aviation experts were sceptical that the Zimbabwean government would grant the airlines licences to fly into the country as it would offer stiff competition to Air Zimbabwe, which they want to protect.
The national airline has been operating at a loss accumulating huge debts since 2000.
Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe public relations and communications manager Annajlia Hungwe on Wednesday told businessdigest that all the airlines had been plying the Zimbabwe route before and none was chased away. The bilateral air services agreement was never cancelled, she said.
“They are free to come back and we will very much welcome them,” she said. “It takes less than a week (to approve the airlines applications) where Bilateral Air Service Agreements (Basa) are in place.”
She added: “No airline that fulfills the requirements of the bilateral air service agreement has been denied permission to fly into Zimbabwe. Basa are agreements entered into between two states outlining provisions for the establishment of air services between them. It is a requirement under the Chicago Convention.”
In 2008, government refused three airlines permission to fly into Zimbabwe in what aviation experts said was a move to protect the national airline from competition and loss of revenue.
The three airlines were — Nationwide from South Africa, Malaysian, and Emirates from the United Arab Emirates.
Addressing journalists at the time, Zimbabwe Tourism Authority Karikoga Kaseke said: “Reasons such as ‘we are protecting our airlines’ were cited.
What are we protecting it (Air Zimbabwe) from? They should learn to compete with other airlines. That is the only way they can remain competitive”.
Kaseke said it was not wise to treat the national airline as if it started operating last year when it has been in existence for a long period.
“Tourism ambassadors go out to market Zimbabwe. For example, in China they cannot come by rail or road. The presence of many airlines in the country also increases the amount of traffic, revenue and flexibility as to when one wants to fly to Zimbabwe,” said Kaseke.
Air Zimbabwe has pulled out of 18 routes from 25 and scaled down on the number of flights per week to rationalise operations and contain costs. While the airline has withdrawn from these routes citing “viability” challenges, its competition has stepped in to fill the void.
Kenya Airways now flies to Harare 12 times a week between Harare and Nairobi while Ethiopian Airlines now flies into Harare daily.
South African Airways ply the Harare Johannesburg route daily.
South African Airways (SAA) and British Airways (Comair) are now plying Johannesburg- Victoria Falls flights daily.
Apart from Air Zimbabwe, SAA, Air Namibia and British Airways Comair service are landing at Victoria Falls Airport daily.
Air Zimbabwe currently has four planes flying one — Modern Ark (MA) 60s, two Boeing 737 and a long haul 767.
A total of 18 international airlines have left the country since the economic crisis when negative publicity about Zimbabwe started 10 years ago.
These include Lufthansa, Qantas, Austrian Airlines, Swissair, Air India, Air France and TAP Air Portugal.
African airlines that no longer fly into Harare include Egyptair, Air Mauritius, Linhas Aereas de Mocambique, Air Namibia, Royal Swazi Airlines and Air Seychelles. Air Tanzania, Ghana Airways, Air Uganda and Air Cameroon have also pulled out of the route.
In 2010, the government also set aside part of US$100 million of its IMF Special Drawing Rights SDRs towards the refurbishment of the country’s infrastructure and the resuscitation of key economic enablers including US$18,1 million for refurbishment of Harare International Airport and Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Airport.