FAITH ZABA/SHAME MAKOSHORI
GLOBAL air passenger carrier, Turkish Airlines’ plan to introduce flights into Zimbabwean destinations are still on track and Harare’s diplomats deployed to that country in 2019 are confident the giant will service the Ankara-Harare route before December, businessdgest can report.
There are also indications the airline could also fly to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe’s premier holiday destination, helping the Southern African country diversify tourism source markets to rebuild an industry that has been dislocated by pandemic headwinds.
In the past eight years, Zimbabwe has been courting the airline to introduce flights into Harare and Victoria Falls after laying out a blueprint to rebuild its tourism industry into one of the nerve centres driving economic recovery.
The industry has struggled to recover from a blitz of bad publicity since the country relapsed into an economic and political crisis at the turn of the century, which dampened global tourists’ appetite.
Prospects for growth briefly emerged when President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced his re-engagement plan in 2017, but this was dealt a blow by the Covid–19 outbreak in 2020.
The outbreak forced airlines to ground jets in a worldwide fight to prevent contagion.
Pandemic curbs are being lifted across markets, and Alfred Mutiwazuka, Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Turkey, says among his top priorities is to convince the global carrier to kick start direct flights.
In an interview with businessdigest in Istanbul, Turkey, last week, Mutiwazuka said direct flights would also be critical in bolstering trade between the two countries, whose diplomatic ties have strengthened since Zimbabwe set up its first embassy in 2019.
“I am engaging Turkish Airlines to fly directly to Harare,” Mutiwazuka said in an interview with businessdigest.
“Turkish airlines general manager in charge of sales in Africa was confident that more destinations would be opened by his organisation. He said that Turkish Airlines had suspended flights to some African cities like Maputo and Cape Town due to Covid-19 but would soon reopen the routes,” he said.
“With respect to new destinations, which include Zimbabwe, he informed us that Turkish Airlines was purchasing new long haul aircraft like A350, which will allow the airline to service new routes.
“The delay in flying to Zimbabwe lies in the few aircraft currently available to service current routes but the solution would be the acquisition of new aircraft,” Mutiwazuka added.
He said prospects for the airline to begin flights into Harare and Victoria Falls were boosted in 2017, when the two countries signed a bilateral service agreement (involving) Air Zimbabwe and Turkish Airlines.
Mutiwazuka said what was only left for the agreement was to operationalise it.
“I have had three discussions as of now with board members of the Turkish Airlines, who have indicated very positive news to us that in the short term probably before the end of the year, we will see Turkish Airlines flying to Zimbabwe,” he said.
“The low levels of Turkey-Zimbabwe bilateral trade are a discouragement to investment by that country’s businesspeople.
“They prefer to invest in countries where their goods already enjoy a good appeal. Yes, Turkish goods have an appeal in Zimbabwe because of quality and low price but I am of the view that when trade between the two countries, which increased when the embassy was opened in October 2019, will play an important role to facilitate Turkish investments in our country.
“Logistics have been raised as a major challenge in luring Turkish investors to Zimbabwe. İf we improve on the movement of goods, we will definitively attract Turkish businesspeople to venture into various projects in our country.
“A simple analysis of Turkish African ventures will show you that they have been made in coastal countries because transportation of goods is easier,” Mutiwazuka added.
He said Turkish Airlines flying directly to Harare or Victoria Falls would facilitate easier movement of cargo, particularly fresh produce.
“If this happens, according to my interaction with Turkish businesspeople, they will then be able to invest in sectors, such as, agriculture in Zimbabwe,” Mutiwazuka said.
Some of the world’s biggest airlines including Emirates and Eurowings already operate flights into Harare and Victoria falls, although there have also been concerns by big airlines over the state of affairs at Zimbabwe’s airports.
In 2012, South African Airways briefly suspended night flights into Harare from Johannesburg, after complaining of visibility issues. Last week, the Zimbabwe Independent reported that there were threats of a mid-air disaster in Zimbabwe after airport authorities due to old navigation systems.
The development came a week after delays and re-scheduling of planes that were expected to land at Bulawayo’s Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport two weeks ago due to fog, as concerns were raised that navigation systems were faulty.
This was the third time in six months that airport authorities either stopped, re-scheduled or diverted planes.
In one of the incidents, sources revealed that Air Zimbabwe and Fastjet scheduled flights for the morning of May 9, 2022, were diverted due to a navigation system that was not functional while bad weather also compounded the situation.