State-of-the-art airports  springboard for growth The expanded Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport

James Tsabora and Kingston Magaya

THE completion of expansion works at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport in July this year was a watershed moment in Zimbabwe’s quest to achieve world class status in air transport infrastructure.

It sent signals that Zimbabwe is serious with aviation development, as it is serious with other transport infrastructure.

Commissioned by President Mnangagwa, the expanded airport left no doubt about the potential of the aviation sector to drive growth and development in Zimbabwe.

In clear terms, the occasion brought to life a key feature of the National Development Strategy 1, which expressly obligates Government to increase investments in aviation infrastructure.

The objective being to enhance Zimbabwe’s participation in regional trade and increase its regional competitiveness.

No country can claim to be developing if it does not register progress in aviation infrastructural development.

For the 21st century, the standing of nations is measured in terms of many standards, and civil aviation is one such standard.

Presently, the economic might and affluence of aviation hubs in areas such as Dubai, Kigali, Riyadh, Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong and Doha, among others, are there for all to see.

The investments pooled to promote civil aviation in these areas is astounding.

The economies of scale that have developed in the mainstream economy for these states are also amazing.

Developing economies can only cast a glance and do what they can, but cannot afford to ignore these developments.

With these massive developments, it is a plus that Zimbabwe has great ambitions in this respect.

Under the NDS1, the main target is rehabilitation, upgrading, maintenance and expansion of critical aviation and airport infrastructure.

The goal is to ensure that Zimbabwe multiplies its annual cargo handling capacity; increases its passenger traffic, and pursues downstream economic activities from the aviation value chains whilst taking into account environmental sustainability.

The fruits are not difficult to reap, and they include increased tourism and a broader revenue base; employment creation; economic growth and more income from increased participation in regional trade.

There are so many trajectories that Zimbabwe must consider as we move to the home stretch of NDS1.

Work continues to be done by the Second Republic under the stewardship of President Mnangagwa, and the direct and competent management of Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Felix Mhona.

Considering the legacy of old, outdated and deteriorated infrastructure of the First Republic; some mountains have to be moved and tough decisions need to be made.

For the Second Republic, the old approach of business as usual had to be discarded.

However, apart from the tough work ahead, certain enablers should be in place.

For instance, several aviation treaty systems need to be acceded to so that Zimbabwe participates competitively in the international aviation industry.

Milestones were achieved in ratification of both the overarching aviation instruments; the Chicago Convention and the International Air Services Transit Agreement, but several international agreements must be signed to effectively milk the practical benefits from these treaty instruments.

Of these, critical treaties include the Cape Town Convention and Protocol of 2001 that establishes mechanisms for aviation financing.

In this vein, Zimbabwe must accede to beneficial international agreements on aviation safety, security and insurance, open skies regime, carrier liability and asset-based aviation financing.

These treaty regimes dovetail with Africa’s quest to achieve regional integration, and in particular, harness objectives under the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA).

It must be stated that these treaty systems pose no danger to Zimbabwe’s sovereignty, but can practically promote increased investment in the aviation sector and attract globally competitive airlines in our airspace.

A corollary to entering into beneficial agreements is for the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development to build strong, fit for purpose aviation agencies in particular the regulator and operators.

Of importance is the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ), the Airports Company of Zimbabwe (ACZ), the National Handling Services (NHS) and Air Zimbabwe.

Critical aviation services such as air navigation, aviation security and aircraft accidents and incidents investigation service may need to be stand-alone institutions for efficiency.

There is also need to continue pursuing innovative investment strategies with vigour.

The NDS1 authorises the pursuit of public private partnerships as a form of financing. Specifically, the NDS1 calls for the pursuit of PPPs to expedite key capital infrastructural projects in aviation.

This must be put to effect in the second half of NDS1.

New technologies must be adopted, procured and installed. Aviation is dynamic, and technology-heavy and this reality must not be ignored.

Internal professional training centres must be established to ensure human capital development keeps abreast with new aviation technologies in place.

This enhances capacity, efficiency and service delivery.

The development mantra must never be dropped. As earlier stated, the journey is tough, and each step quite exhausting; yet, we cannot stop.

 James Tsabora is a legal consultant, academic and board member of the Airports Company of Zimbabwe. (Email: [email protected])

Kingston Magaya is a legal advisor in the public sector, academic and board member in a public entity in the transport sector.

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