By Leonard Ncube
National airline Air Zimbabwe yesterday made its maiden flight connecting the country’s three international airports, 179 days after it suspended operations on March 28 due to Covid-19.
There was excitement from the airliner, tourism industry and other stakeholders following the resumption of flights amid calls for locals to embrace travelling by air to promote domestic tourism.
The Boeing 737 departed RG Mugabe International Airport in Harare in the morning with about 30 passengers via Bulawayo where it dropped a few passengers at the JMN Nkomo International before landing at the Victoria Falls International at 9.35am.
Upon landing, the airliner was welcomed by the usual rituals of cannon spraying before port health staff sanitised passengers and conducted temperature checks.
In Victoria Falls it dropped a handful of passengers while others who included tourism agents and operators departed for Harare with the same plane about an hour later.
One of the passengers Miss Perseverance Mahara from Harare could not hide her joy landing in Victoria Falls for the first time in her life.
An enthused Air Zimbabwe corporate communications officer Ms Firstme Vitori said necessary Covid-19 protocols had been put in place.
She said the airliner will be flying three times a week on Mondays-Wednesdays and Fridays on the Harare-Bulawayo-Harare route.
“It has been a long break since our last flight before lockdown and we are very excited to have resumed our operations today on the domestic front for now as we monitor demand. For our regional route we are expecting to start on the 3rd of October on the Harare-Dar es Salaam route every Tuesday and Saturday and we hope to increase frequencies as the year progresses,” she said.
Ms Vitori said plans were underway to resume flights to South Africa next month using the ERJ145.
She said the airline will enforce wearing of masks, sanitising of hands and temperature checks among other Covid-19 guidelines.
“What we want to assure our travelling public is that as Air Zimbabwe we have put in place all measures to ensure that their health and safety is protected.
“We are working with guidelines that are provided for by the Ministry of Health and Child Care, World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Air Transport Association and we will ensure that there is strict adherence to the guidelines.
“We also want to encourage the locals to come on board and travel with the national airline. We are working together with key stakeholders like Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe, tour operators and Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) to ensure that we come up with packages that are affordable to locals. We want to resuscitate the Flame Lily brand which we are confident will come up with affordable packages for locals,” said Ms Vitori.
She said Air Zimbabwe targets flexibility and sustainability.
“As we resume our operations going into the future, we are looking at a period of three years when we should be home to modern aircraft that will be added to our fleet. There is no going back but we will continue to monitor especially the demand side given that we are coming from the Covid-19 lockdown.
Already we are getting bookings and this flight had passengers on board,” she said.
Resumption of airlines is key to resuscitation of the tourism industry whose viability hinges mostly on air transport. Victoria Falls, as the country’s tourism capital, hopes for a return of airlines especially from the region and international tourists source markets. The industry is one of the key economic pillars alongside agriculture, mining and manufacturing.
Efforts are being made to capacitate domestic tourism as the country awaits the return of regional and international travellers.
ZTA corporate communications and industry relations manager Ms Hazel Zisanhi who was also on the plane said the development means a lot for domestic tourism and augurs well with the Tourism Recovery and Growth Strategy towards attaining a US$5 billion economy by year 2025.
“I must also commend Air Zimbabwe and Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe for the safety precautionary measures that they have put in place. On board we were really excited. It was a welcome relief and reassuring to see the cabin crew wearing complete personal protective equipment.
“We are definitely looking forward to the resumption of regional and international flights which will ensure that we have our tourists arriving from various source markets. As you know tourism contributes about 14 percent to Zimbabwe’s Gross Domestic Product,” she said.
Tourism executive Mrs Barbara Murasiranwa said operators are geared for the return of clients after a long break.
“As you can see, we are very excited by this development and you can imagine the maiden flight has been done by our own national carrier. We are very excited that we are going in the right direction and that brings confidence to us as most people had not worked in the last six months.
“The whole tourism industry was just dead and to see people coming to work is amazing. We want to thank Air Zimbabwe for the maiden flight hoping to see more flights coming in because the confidence has already been built and we are getting there.
“We came here to observe what’s happening from the airport and we are going to be observing activity in our own tourist attraction, where there are gaps, we will then work on them because this area has never been chartered before and we don’t know how to handle it. We are all learning in the process as we get ready for international flights,” said Mrs Murasiranwa.
Operators, car hire and taxis are ready while restaurants, immigration and Zimbabwe Revenue Authority are also ready for international arrivals expected in two weeks when Ethiopian Airlines makes its maiden return.
Victoria Falls Airport manager Mr Ronnie Masawi said after successfully welcoming Air Zimbabwe, they are convinced the facility is prepared to handle as many flights. The Chronicle