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Airports CEO lays out gameplan

ONE of the first major actions taken by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration after assuming power in 2018 was to unbundle the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (Caaz) into two state-run entities. These are the Airports Company of Zimbabwe (ACZ) and Caaz. Our Business Reporter, Freeman Makopa (FM) this week sat down with Tawanda Gusha (TG), chief executive officer at ACZ to understand the progress that the new firm has made since its launch. Below are excerpts of the interview:

Fact file: Tawanda Gusha

  • Chief executive officer at Airports Company of Zimbabwe
  • Holds a degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Zimbabwe
  •  MBA from the Midlands State University
  • Graduate Diploma in Aviation Management from the National University of Singapore
  • Joined the department of civil aviation as a trainee traffic controller and studied and qualified as an aerodrome and approach Air traffic controller
  • Worked at the then Harare International Airport (Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport)  as an aerodrome controller from 1998 up to 2002
  • From 2002-2006 moved to Airport Operations as a duty manager
  • Operations manager under the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe for two and half years beginning  2008
  • Became a Regional Airports manager after a restructuring exercise from 2008-2016
  • From June 2016-2020 promoted to Director of Airports under the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe
  •  In 2020 appointed Acting CEO of Airports Company of Zimbabwe
  • Has been in the aviation industry for 24 years

FM: Tell us about the Airports Company of Zimbabwe?

TG: The Airports Company of Zimbabwe was formed through the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe Amendment Act of 2018. The Airports Company of Zimbabwe’s main mandate is (overseeing) the operation of airports. Its role is to acquire, establish, develop, maintain, manage and control airports in the country. It also looks at developing non-traditional sources of revenues to complement traditional aviation-related revenues. This is because as a private limited government entity, we are expected to be profit-making. At some point, we have to find ourselves paying a dividend to the government.

FM: How much have you invested in  expansion of airports?

TG: The government has taken a decision to invest in airport infrastructure. We are returning to the days of the Caaz where we saw the construction and commissioning of Joshua Nkomo International Airport in Bulawayo at US$30 million and Victoria Falls International Airport at US$150 million. The current project is the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport at US$153 million. In total, so far the figure is around US$330 million. Joshua Nkomo was funded through the Public Sector Investment Programme. The other US$303 million was funded through a concessionary loan from China EximBank. We are working towards meeting this obligation together with the government because it is a government guaranteed loan.

FM: Do we have other projects lined up?

TG: There are other investments that are lined up which we intend to implement through PPPs because we cannot be relying on loan funding all the time. It becomes unsustainable. We need to find other funding models that will ensure that the business is also sustainable. With PPP arrangements you are spreading risk. This will look at development around airports like investing in hotels and shopping malls. We must fully utilise land around airports. We will soon go to tender for airport solar farms. We want to find partners who will be investing in solar projects within airports. That way, we will be targeting to reduce our electricity bills.

FM: What’s the difference between Caaz and ACZ?

TG: The main focus of Caaz is regulation of the aviation industry. ACZ is a business entity which is looking at driving the aviation industry through going out to attract airlines, working collaboratively with stakeholders in the tourism industry and aviation industries. We have been on a massive drive to attract airlines. We participate in international forums where airlines and airports are given an opportunity to meet and discuss business opportunities.

FM: Tell us more about this.

TG: I am happy to report that under the Zimbabwe destination development programme, ACZ has been active in the Victoria Falls service development. We want to include the whole country. We are in the process of forming what we call a destination management organisation so that we do targeted marketing of our destination as Zimbabwe, instead of having different entities pursuing different strategies and different initiatives. Of course, we are working through the leadership of the ministries of Transport, as well as Environment Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry.

FM: What will be the benefit of this?

TG: We want to break these silos, which have been there before where each entity will be going out there targeting business. The tourism sector is looking at inviting tourists to the country. But at the same time while they are looking at one market, we are looking at an airline from a totally different market altogether. So we are supposed to have those linkages, targeting a certain source market together and identifying potential airlines that can bring those tourists to the destination. If we manage to set up that destination management organisation we will have a targeted approach to our air service and tourism development.

FM: Has this business proved viable?

TG: Between 2021 and this year we have read about a few airlines that have started operations, such as MacAir, which started operations in 2020 during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. They may be a small airline operating between Kasane and Victoria Falls, but according to their statistics in 2019, they carried over 200 000 passengers. That kind of linkage is what is required. Added to that, we have had Qatar Airways, which also introduced flights between Doha and Harare in August 2021. We have also had Eurowings Discover, which has launched flights between Frankfurt and Victoria Falls via Windhoek.

FM: These are mostly international airlines.

TG: Fastjet has also increased frequencies and launched between Victoria Falls and Kruger Mpumalanga (in South Africa). They are also planning on flights into Durban, which is something very positive. The latest addition is one of the local airlines called Kuva. They are connecting Harare and Kariba and Victoria Falls. They are planning to connect Hwange. We are hoping that overtime all these airlines will be connecting to Buffalo Range and Masvingo Airports.

FM: You mentioned plans to expand airports. What is the progress so far?

TG: The bulk of structural works at Robert Mugabe International Airport have been completed. The contractor is finishing fitting the glass façade for the terminal building. We are in the process of procuring the passenger facilitation equipment. Hopefully, before the end of this year, we will be using the new wings of this international terminal building. I can safely say that Robert Mugabe is upwards of 65% complete.

FM: After completion of expansion, what will be your targets?

TG: After completion of this project, we would have increased the port handling capacity, passenger handling capacity from the current 2,5 million passengers per annum to six million passengers per annum. That gives us an opportunity to attract more airlines. We are increasing aircraft parking spaces; what we call the apron areas. From the current three arrow bridges, we are adding another four arrow bridges, which means at any given time we are able to handle medium-to wide-bodied aircraft. It is not like overnight you have bumper revenue but it’s a gradual process where you are growing the business.

FM: Tell us about the issue of ownership of land around airports?

TG: The issues that are holding us back particularly at Robert Mugabe International Airport are issues of ownership of land around the airport. So we’re in negotiations with the government to request them to let that land be owned by ACZ so that we develop it and enhance commercial activity.

FM: Tell us more about this.

TG: We have made our submissions through the Ministry of Transport. Hopefully, that issue is going to be completed soon. We will then call for PPP arrangements or requests for proposals for the development of that land into warehousing facilities, cold rooms and cold chain facilities. We want to approach the government and apply for an airport free zone where we have a free trade zone around the airport so that it becomes attractive to investors.

FM: What is your combined handling capacity for all airports?

GT: So for now we are adding 3,5 million from this (Robert Mugabe) airport. Currently we’re at about 5,5 million throughout the country. If we add that 3,5 million we will be at nine million passengers per annum. If we manage to find partners to develop Charles Prince Airport, that will probably be another 200 000 capacity added to the nine million.

FM: How many passengers were you handling before the pandemic?

TG: 2018 was the best performing year within the last 10 years where we were obviously just around 30% of our capacities overall for the simple reason that in the other smaller airports business has been very low. I can tell you that at Victoria Falls and Harare, we were looking at over 30%, 35% or 40%.

FM: How much do local and international airlines generate?

TG: From airlines, we get what we call aerodrome charges, which include your landing and parking when they dock on the aprons. We look at the cargo as well, we have the cargo throughput, which is a fraction of the revenue.

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