Golden Sibanda and Costa Mano in Victoria Falls
QATAR and Etihad are among a string of global airlines lining up to start flights into Victoria Falls following the extensive upgrade of the Victoria Falls International Airport to modernise and increase its capacity.
The $150 million upgrade to increase the airport’s capacity and give it a new modern look has been touted as a game changer that will allow the biggest, reputable global airlines to fly into the resort town and boost arrivals.
Initially designed to handle just 500 000 travellers per year, the extensive upgrades have increased the airport’s capacity to 2 million while making it possible for the biggest airliners to land at the airport.
The expansion followed realisation by Government just before the turn of the century that the life of the country’s old airports were coming to an end and required upgrade before demand outweighed capacity.
Victoria Falls International Airport manager Mr Ronnie Masawi said on Wednesday that Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Lufthansa had indicated willingness to fly into the world renowned resort.
Mr Masawi was updating delegates to the Zimbabwe Council for Tourism Convention on progress made in upgrading and refurbishing the resort town’s airport. There has also been interest from Ethiopian Airways, Kenyan Airways and Emirates who have indicated that they would consider adding another aircraft through Victoria Falls to Harare when traffic increases.
“We may not necessarily get a new airline tomorrow, airlines will first code share, which is one way to study the market. Right now Etihad have got a code share with British Airways. Recently Lufthansa got a code share arrangement with South African Airways to Victoria Falls,” he said.
“So in other words we already have Lufthansa coming to Victoria Falls; Etihad and Qatar also. So what they do is that when they have built the market to a sizeable number, they then introduce their own aircraft.”
Presently, airlines flying into Victoria Falls include Namibian Airways, fastjet, British Airways, Fly Africa and Air Zimbabwe, which could not use its bigger aircraft such as the Boeing 767 prior to the upgrades.
The upgrades should have been completed in September last year, but exceeded the initially targeted period due to unforeseen challenges.
It is now expected that outstanding works will be done by mid-year. The land side upgrades of the airport involved construction of the new exquisite and modern terminal building to match global standards.
This also included water and sewer reticulation, new car park and roadworks and the new airport village sewer system. The air side upgrades entailed the construction of a new runway, four kilometres long and 60 metres wide. Previously, Mr Masawi said, the airport had a runway that was only 2,2 kilometres long.
“We could only land up to an A319, which is what South African Airways are using, Boeing 737-400, what British Airways Com Air are using or Boeing 737-200, which is what Air Zimbabwe was using before we started using the new runway.
The new runway has also been fitted with lights that were previously not there, which will enable the airport to progressively transition into a 24 hour operation based on demand from increasing traffic.