NATIONAL flag carrier Air Zimbabwe says it will resume international flights to United Kingdom and China before the end of the year in addition to expanding its regional route network.
The flag carrier suspended international flights a few years ago owing to a number of reasons, among them a depleted fleet, threats of seizure of planes by unpaid foreign creditors and mismanagement.
The UK market is vital for Zimbabwe as it serves as a gateway into the European Union and on account of strong historical ties between the country and London, scores of Zimbabweans are based in the UK.
In addition, strong trade and economic ties that exist between Zimbabwe and China would also be critical for the national airline to service the Asian country’s market. Resumption of direct international flights also bodes well for Zimbabwe’s re-engagement drive.
Speaking during a plenary session at the Bulawayo tourism indaba on Monday, Air Zimbabwe area manager for Bulawayo Mrs Thandanani Nyoni said: “Currently our strategic plan for 2020 is the development of a robust regional network before the reintroduction of international routes.
“On the international operations we are looking at 2020 where we intend to re-introduce our international routes, that is China and the United Kingdom.”
She said the reintroduction of international flights by Air Zimbabwe would come after the airline develops domestic routes. To achieve this, Mrs Nyoni said they require tourism industry’s financial support to the local aviation sector.
“We will also need joint destination marketing funded by the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry. Here we are looking at things like road advertising even for regional routes like DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), Tanzania and other routes that we intend to get into in the region.
“We also need the development of a master plan that focuses on local airline connectivity, hotels and tourism,” said Mrs Nyoni.
Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Mangaliso Ndlovu also noted Government’s continued efforts to turn around Air Zimbabwe following the recent acquisition of a Boeing 777 aircraft and efforts to complete the registration process of the Embraer ERJ145 aircraft.
He said the latter was the ideal aircraft to ply local routes and will ease pressure on the airline’s one serviceable plane, which has been servicing all local and regional routes. Last month, Zimbabwe took delivery of a 282-seater Boeing 777-200ER aeroplane from Malaysia laying the ground for the revival of the national flag carrier.
Minister Ndlovu said he was encouraged by such positive developments, which will revitalise Air Zimbabwe and enable it to improve its route network.
“I also welcome efforts by private airlines such as Fastjet Zimbabwe, which has signalled its intention to introduce two new direct routes to include a new international schedule from Victoria Falls to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA), Nelspruit, South Africa, and a return direct domestic flight from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls,” he said.
“All this is vital for tourism as it will allow tourism packages include Matopos, surrounding areas and Mpumalanga which is the closest link to Kruger National Park thereby allowing Bulawayo to be linked with other tourism destinations,” he said.