Zimbabwe, with a population of around 16.5 million, is home to a fast-growing aviation industry. The country is rich in natural resources (including over 40 types of metals and minerals) and is home to a mining sector that acts as the main driver for the country’s economy. Around 40% of Zimbabwe’s foreign exchange is the export of metals and minerals. Combine that with the consistent tourism demand at some Zimbabwe’s tourist hotspots — including Victoria Falls — the vitality of the country’s aviation sector becomes more apparent.
As with other African nations, aviation plays a significant role in contributing to the country’s overall economic growth, and air routes determine the links Zimbabwe has with the rest of the world.
Recently at World Routes in Guangzhou, China, I met with delegates of the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe, in order to discuss the recent growth across the country’s airports and to talk through the authority’s strategy for obtaining new airline operators.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe’s presence at the conference itself is significant. Not only does it further prove the willingness of the authority, who are determined to establish new airline operator customers, but it also gives Zimbabwe visibility, and enables the authority to meet with the world’s airlines and airports…all under one roof.
The ‘mantra’ being shared from the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe’s team (including AJ, Tawanda, and Sarue) to the world’s airlines? ‘Zimbabwe Is Open For Business’.
Attracting The Airlines
In recent times, the priority of Zimbabwe’s aviation authority is clear: to attract new airline operators to launch services to/from/via Zimbabwe, or to boost frequencies and strengthen relationships with existing airline operators.
To break it down, the authority’s focus is to have airlines launch new international air routes to Zimbabwe’s two busiest airports, Harare’s Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, and Victoria Falls. “Each international airline flight to either Harare or Victoria Falls feeds traffic on to domestic routes [even if domestic airlines haven’t established a partnership with international route airline operator]. These domestic routes consist of flights from Zimbabwe’s larger airports, to smaller airports — strategically situated near to tourist hotspots” AJ tells me.
Attracting airlines is a difficult job for even the world’s most established, well-connected airports. Theoretically, airlines are only ever going to open a route that it expects will be (at least somewhat) profitable, be it by passengers traffic, or cargo. If demand doesn’t historically exist for a route or destination, some airlines take the chance of creating the demand by flying there.
Airport authorities are often able to incentivise airlines with lower operating costs, as a way in which to have routes appear more financially attractive during an airlines’ economic route assessment. To further its willingness for new airlines, and unlike several of its African nations neighbours, Zimbabwe is now offering generous incentives to the world’s airlines, in a bid to secure their business.
If an airline were to open a new route to Zimbabwe, the authority is offering a 100% discount on all applicable aerodrome and air navigational charges for the first year, followed by a 50% discount for the second year of operation. A generous incentive of this kind is a rarity these days, but it doesn’t end there. Zimbabwe has also extended similar incentives to new services to airlines wishing to boost frequencies, such as a 50% discount on an increased frequency to Zimbabwe. “Our incentives have already encouraged airlines to upgrade their flights to larger aircraft, with higher seating capacity, on routes to and from Zimbabwe” Sarue tells me.
New Infrastructure To Come
Zimbabwe’s new government has approved upgrades to airports across the country, in a bid to double existing annual passenger handling capacity. The eight main airports in the country have a combined capacity of approximately six million passengers annually, with Harare’s Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport being the largest at around 2.5 million passengers, per year.
For Harare, President Mnangagwa has now commissioned a $153 million Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport expansion of the international terminal building and aprons, with installations of four new air bridges, a secondary radar system (rare for this region) a construction of a VIP pavilion, airfield ground lighting system, and new communication systems.
When I spoke with officials at Lufthansa, the airline said they were pleased with the developments underway in Zimbabwe, including the airport expansion — a positive sign, amid talk that the German flag carrier airline is set to resume flights to Victoria Falls, via Luanda. The expansion project is expected to take around three years to complete, and naturally brings with it employment opportunities for locals.
It’s also worth highlihghting that Zimbabwe’s business ties to China are on the increase — not only is Zimbabwe’s authority present at a large Guangzhou hosted aviation event, but the upgrade of Harare is also being funded through a concessionary loan from China’s Exim Bank. The loan was established when President Mnangagwa visited China, and it’s also the same firm behind the successful upgrade of Victoria Falls International Airport, which was completed back in 2016.
Passenger Traffic Is Now On The Increase
Zimbabwe’s determination for growth is already being reflected in the latest passengers figures. Passenger traffic at the upgraded Victoria Falls International Airport has surged by 25% during the period of January to August 2018 —with the number of passengers continuing to rise.
There are currently eight airlines serving Victoria Falls, including South African Airlink, Fastjet, Air Zimbabwe, South African Airways, British Airways Comair, Kenya Airways, Air Namibia and Ethiopian Airways. As I mentioned earlier, the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe’s continued efforts could now see the resumption of Lufthansa services to Victoria Falls. Furthermore British carriers Virgin Atlantic & British Airways are also tipped to be considering launching routes to the country, with assessments of the route viablity said to be ‘ongoing’.
If there were ever a time that ‘Zimbabwe Is Open For Business’ — it’s now.
The airport authority’s focus on other airlines doing business with Zimbabwe is much more sustainable than making Air Zimbabwe a priority, given Air Zimbabwe is struggling with a $300 million debt, with only three of its commericial aircraft operational (the other three are grounded, forceding the national airline to abandon international routes).
There’s now an appointed independent administrator running its loss-making national airline in order to try and revive its fortunes, but Zimbabwe hasn’t let the struggles of its national carrier interfere or tarnish its global image as a country with aviaiton potenital, passenger growth, and lucrative markets such as Victoria Falls. Poor infrastructure, political instability, and regional integration remain obstacles for much of the African region — but Zimbabwe’s determination to secure more airline operators is futher enhancing the global awareness of aviaiton opportunity in the country.
Over the last 20 years, Africa’s growth in inbound tourism has exceeded the world average, and the continient is becoming increasingly popular with tourists from China, and UK. A recent global market forecast notes that whilst the number of international city pairs connecting Africa has more than doubled, city pairs connecting African states declined until 2012, with the number recovering to around 920 by the end of 2017.
Zimbabwe tend to be very liberal when it comes to granting airlines fifth freedom rights — but having this mentality is itself a tangible step to even greater liberalisation across the region, which will ultimately lead to economic prosperity for the country. Zimbabwe’s aviation infrastructure is growing in parallel, and proven projects such as the upgraded Victoria Falls airport, are already showing the previously forecast rise in passenger traffic. With the backdrop of a new government, and the authoirty’s global vision — Zimbabwe’s determination for more airline operators is already starting to pay off.