Airlines return to Zimbabwe

Another international airline, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, has relaunched flights to Zimbabwe.

The return of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, 13 years after it pulled out of the country, is an indication that the sector is becoming increasingly lucrative, according to analyst Moses Moyo.

It is hoped that a vibrant aviation sector will underpin the expected boom in Zimbabwe's tourism sector.

"There is a lot of positivity about the tourism sector in terms of the numbers we can receive each year, and the increasing interest by international airlines shows there is a lot of interest in Zimbabwe as a tourist destination. It is crucial that we have airlines from across the world flying into Zimbabwe," Moyo said.

A charter company executive, who wanted to remain anonymous, said a peaceful political environment was vital for international airlines to return to Zimbabwe. The country is expected to hold elections soon to choose a replacement for the current coalition government.

"People will not come here if political violence explodes in the upcoming elections," he said. "It's up to our government leaders to denounce ­violence. Things are looking up for aviation because of the interest shown by KLM, and Emirates is a major credit, but we now need to do our homework."

<strong>Increasing access</strong>
Emirates has already increased its flights, linking Zimbabwe, Zambia and the United Arab Emirates. SAA has also entrenched its flights between Harare and Johannesburg and several other regional airlines have said that they are keen to fly to the country.

Emirates resumed flights to Zim­babwe &ndash; five a week &ndash; only eight months ago and recently announced that it was increasing the number and would start daily flights. Jean Luc Grillet, Emirates's senior vice-president of commercial operations for Africa, said "a daily service to Lusaka and Harare will mean greater choice for customers". This would "facilitate more export business opportunities for both countries", forge greater trade links and increase access to key trading partners in Asia and the Middle East, he said.

KLM's inaugural flight to Zim­babwe on October 29 landed at Harare International Airport at about 9pm. The Dutch airline will combine its Zimbabwe and Zambia routes and will operate 11 flights a week to Harare via Nairobi in collaboration with Kenyan Airways.

"By adding Harare to our  destinations, KLM has a strong network and position in Africa," said Pieter Bootsma, a senior official at KLM.

The airline said in a statement that the Lusaka leg of the trip "is not a stopover, but a layover". The airline will operate three flights a week between Harare and Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.

Although the major international airlines that have returned to Zimbabwe are likely to rake in profits, the problems of the troubled Zimbabwean flag carrier are likely to persist. It is saddled with a debt that is reported to have ballooned to more than $140-million. But it announced last week that it would resume domestic and regional operations this month, although on a smaller scale.

Innocent Mavhunga, the airline's acting group chief executive officer, said that the regional flights would include three flights a week between Harare and Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport. Domestically, it would fly between Harare and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city, and Victoria Falls, a prime resort town.

Air Zimbabwe's beleaguered financial position is not its only woe. The International Air Transport Association recently suspended Air Zimbabwe for failing to comply with global safety standards. It has since given Air Zimbabwe until November 31 this year to comply with its ­standards or face being banned from using international airports and airspaces.

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