Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe grants two foreign operator permits

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By Agencies

ZIMBABWE is set to welcome the new Eswatini Air and Zambia Airways after the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) granted them Foreign Operator Permits (FOP) to fly to the region.

As the Zimbabwean aviation industry is almost fully recovered, the country continues to welcome new airlines and expand its network in line with its “open skies policy.” Eswatini Air and Zambia Airways are the latest airlines to be granted FOPs to and from Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, formerly Harare International Airport.

The FOPs will allow the airlines to commence scheduled passenger and cargo flights, although the airlines will release the commencement date and flight frequencies later.

Zambia Airways currently flies to South Africa, while Eswatini Air plans to start operations this year with flights to South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The commencement of these flights would significantly boost trade and tourism within Southern Africa.

Recovery of aviation and tourism in Zimbabwe

As a country heavily dependent on tourism, Zimbabwe was significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as international travel reached a standstill. Following the pandemic, the aviation industry has been on a sturdy recovery path. In recent years, more airlines have been flying to Zimbabwe, including Emirates, Qatar Airways, and Ethiopian Airlines.

Ethiopian Airlines previously operated flights from Ethiopia to Zimbabwe via Zambia, but from March 26, the airline will fly directly from Addis Ababa Bole International Airport to Harare.

The arrival of more airlines is a clear step in the right direction for the aviation market in general. CAAZ Director General Dr. Elijah Chingosho said in a statement;
“We are excited about the positive prospects for 2023 in line with the national Vision 2030 and guided by the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) as we implement the government-initiated Open Skies Policy, positioning our economy for more trade, investment, and tourism.”

To cater to the increased passenger traffic and interest of the international community, the government of Zimbabwe is expanding the RGM International Airport. Developing an efficient air transport system is critical in enhancing economic growth in line with the country’s aspirations and global standards.

Upgrading the country’s main hub is expected to see more international airlines open routes to Zimbabwe. As of February 9, the $153 million expansion of the main terminal is 85% complete and is expected to be fully complete by June 2023.

The new arrivals and departure sections will be opened to the public this year. At the same time, the rehabilitation of the existing international and domestic terminal buildings will be carried out in due course.

The government is also adding final touches to the exquisite VVIP pavilion. After completion, the airport is expected to increase its handling capacity from 2.5 million to over 6 million passengers annually.

The decline of Zimbabwe’s aviation industry

Although the industry is gaining momentum post-pandemic, it has significantly dipped during the last two decades. In its early years, Zimbabwe was connected to many international destinations by the flag carrier Air Zimbabwe, but since the early 2000s, the aviation industry rapidly declined due to economic and political difficulties.

Air Zimbabwe previously flew to Europe, serving London Gatwick and Frankfurt Airport. The airline also served Perth and Sydney in association with Qantas. Regionally, it operated scheduled flights to Botswana, Mauritius, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zambia, while its domestic network included Bulawayo and Victoria Falls.

By 2004, Air Zimbabwe was running on significant losses, and it was reported that IATA had temporarily suspended the airline. By 2007, due to the country’s inflation which rose over 1000%, the airline’s tickets increased by over 500%. Due to the lack of foreign currency to pay for aircraft services, Air Zimbabwe temporarily seized operations.

Over the years, due to debts and financial turmoil, the airline seized operations on multiple occasions, was suspended by IATA, and was banned from entering the European Union. Air Zimbabwe resumed operations during the pandemic and currently serves Bulawayo and Victoria Falls domestically and South Africa and Tanzania regionally.