LEADING European Airline Lufthansa has expressed interest in resuming flights into Zimbabwe, with options to land in Harare or the resort town of Victoria Falls, a top government official has said.
By Taurai Mangudhla
The Germany airline’s decision to consider a second dance with Zimbabwe, after having joined a number of airlines to pull out of Harare between 2000 and 2008 on account of hyperinflation that rendered the Zimbabwean currency worthless, is said to be informed by the introduction of a multiple currency regime dominated by the United States dollar that has held fort since 2009.
Zimbabwe also recently upgraded its Victoria Falls Airport at a cost of US$150 million into a world-class airport that can handle large long haul aircraft, creating an opportunity for airlines to fly directly into the resort town.
The upgrade also doubled the airport’s handling capacity to one million passengers per year, although the airport has no in-flight catering facilities.
“Lufthansa has been making contacts with the ministry and the Civil Aviation Authority (Caaz) with a view to make a comeback into the country. I am not quite clear whether they want to fly to Harare or Victoria Falls, if not both destinations, given the recent upgrade of Victoria Falls, but they have shown interest in Harare,” said a top official in the Transport Ministry.
This comes as Ethiopian Airlines over the weekend introduced flights to Victoria Falls. According to officials, there will be flights on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. The airline is using a Boeing 737-800. Ethiopian has been plying the Addis Ababa-Harare route.
Enquiries made from the Transport Ministry showed Lufthansa was engaging the Caaz, which is responsible for regulating airlines in the country.
Lufthansa has been engaging Zimbabwe for a while now, dating back to 2016, a director in the Information Ministry, who requested anonymity, said.
However, according to a director in the Transport Ministry, Lufthansa has kept its cards close to the chest, choosing to openly focus more on leveraging its Star Alliance membership.
“Lufthansa, since mid-2016, started selling tickets from any its various destinations directly to Harare and it was using South African Airways to get people to Harare or Victoria Falls because the two airlines are both members of Star Alliance,” said the director who preferred to remain anonymous.
“I would like to believe they we basically testing waters, testing the market to see if the numbers they get are sustainable,” he said, adding that, “as government this is good for the country because we have the capacity and we are saying we are open for business.”
Caaz’s strategy is to increase passenger handling to 6,5 million per year compared to 1,5 million passengers handled in 2015.
Efforts to get exact details on the extent of the discussions and commitments from Caaz were fruitless as its general manager David Chawota’s mobile went unanswered.
Lufthansa reported a 1,8% increase in 2016 passengers, but slipped to become second to Irish Ryanair as Europe’s largest airline in terms of the number of people it carried.
The airline recorded 109,7 million passengers in 2016.