Air Zimbabwe plans to resume flights on the Harare-London route this year after a four-year hiatus.
Air Zimbabwe (AirZim) acting passenger and cargo general manager Christopher Kwenda said the company had initially anticipated to resume plying the lucrative route beginning of July, but had to contend with a later date due to licensing delays after London and the European Union (EU) introduced new aviation licensing requirements.
“We had targeted the 1st of July, but now there are new requirements from the UK and the EU. We will know the exact dates as soon as we satisfy those requirements because we also have to start selling the route once we get the green light,” Kwenda said in a telephone interview.
AirZim acting CE Edmund Makona said the national flag carrier had already submitted all the necessary paperwork required by British authorities.
“The airline has submitted all the necessary paperwork for the route licence as is required by London authorities and is still waiting their approval to commence operations. Once the route licence has been issued, we will then advise the exact date for the flights resumption,” Makona said in emailed responses this week.
Air Zim was forced to terminate the route in 2012 and is now negotiating to clear a debt of US$2, 8 million owed to London navigation agency.
Makona said all creditors were engaged and arrangements are in place to service any outstanding amounts. He said creditors have been forthcoming in terms of payment arrangements.
He said flight resumption would depend on whether the licence will be issued. “We will also give adequate lead time to allow for marketing activities,” he said.
“Operating equipment and the crew are already in place. Once the route licence has been issued, we will be ready to commence operations.” Makona said the airline plans to employ a robust cost-cutting strategy with a view to avoid plunging into debt again. AirZim in 2014 resumed flights on the Harare-Johannesburg route after the airline cleared its debts with some South African creditors. Two weeks ago, the airline re-introduced flights on the Harare-Dar es Salaam route after a seven year absence, flying return flights on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
The airline will be scrambling for market share with fastjet. AirZim is pinning hopes on the growing trade between Tanzania and Zimbabwe where many cross border traders and business travellers frequent the two destinations.
It is offering a generous free luggage promotion of 40kg per passenger and a free ticket for every six people travelling together on the new route.
Kwenda said the market was so far responding positively to the new route amid growth potential indications.
“The new route is picking up, the response is quite encouraging, it will take time to achieve the load factors that we would like to have, but it’s quite positive so far,” he said.
Speaking at the official launch of the Harare-Dar es Salaam inaugural flight in Tanzania on June 4, Transport minister Jorum Gumbo said movement between the two countries was based on tourists and traders, hence the need for airlines to put strategies that guarantee sustainable good passenger loads.
“The re-launch of AirZim coming to Dar es Salaam is a very important milestone for us as a Zimbabwean nation, and it is important that we connect Africa through Tanzania.
“Tanzania has got many attractions that our people in Southern Africa would like to visit, the Zanzibar Island, the Mount Kilimanjalo and so forth. However, we also have the wonders of the wold like the mighty Victoria Falls and also the Great Zimbabwe monument in Zimbabwe, which should assist us as Africans to promote tourism in the region,” Gumbo said.
The Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Infrastructure, which has been critical of AirZim, welcomed the new route, saying the development speaks to four key issues, continental intervention, industrialisation strategy, beneficiation and value addition as well as formalisation of the informal sector.
“One does not stifle the informal sector and hope to formalise it. There is a lot of buying of second hand vehicles and the informal trade that is going on between the two countries,” Portfolio committee chairperson Dextor Nduna said at the launch.
This article was written by Fidelity Mhlanga/ Taurai Mangudhla.