The new Victoria Falls Airport and the prospect of a new southern African air hub has engendered much excitement, but long-haul flights have yet to start. Those in the know believe there’s nothing stopping the commencement, it just takes time. By Michelle Colman.
The new Victoria Falls International Airport opened at the end of last year, accompanied by expectations of a new air hub to challenge existing ones in the southern African region. But to date no international airlines or long-haul flights have made an appearance.
Recently, Tourism Update reported that airlines operating into the airport were using larger equipment, due to an encouraging 23% increase in passenger movement, but these are mainly regional services.
Laura Dacomb, Marketing Director for Sense of Africa Botswana, told Tourism Update that before international carriers could land there, “a checklist of criteria was required to be completed by the Zimbabwe authorities – this included adequate hospital facilities and fire services that had to be upgraded, amongst a list of other requirements”.
According to Ronnie Masawi, Airport Manager, the airport is fully operational, including the new runway, taxiway, parking areas, control tower, water and sewer reticulation and the new international terminal building. “The new fire station is complete but not yet handed over by the contractor. We expect to occupy and start using the new fire station from about October 1,” he advised.
While rehabilitation of the domestic terminal building was ongoing, with the expected date for completion being around the end of September, Masawi said all services and facilities necessary for international flights were up and running. The international terminal building is fully air-conditioned, flight information display systems are operational, the public address system is functional, as are aircraft aerobridge docking facilities, and a full ILS Category 2 airfield ground lighting system.
Masawi referred questions regarding interest from international airlines to the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe’s Marketing Office, which had not responded by publishing date.
“Nothing is preventing long-haul flights into Victoria Falls Airport from happening,” said Africa Albida Tourism CE, Ross Kennedy. “It is all part of a long process by airlines to check and inspect new airports, terminals, fire and safety, medical and technical facilities, passenger handling, catering, customs and immigration, both at the airport and in and around the destination.”
Kennedy said airlines also had to study the viability of the route in terms of existing arrivals into the destination, competition, potential growth and source markets, business and leisure splits, cargo potential, geographic location and regional connections that may improve load factors, internal air distribution and access, room capacity in the destination and capacity of other tourist services.
“There are discussions and investigations under way by a few airlines, with site inspections of the new Victoria Falls Airport and the destination taking place,” he said. Current economic and political issues such as Brexit, terrorism, wars and more, all impacted on major investment decisions and expansion by airlines.
On the Zambian side of the Falls at Livingstone Airport, Kenya Airways recently launched a new service from Nairobi to Cape Town via Livingstone.
“This new route now makes it easy for travellers to tick off three of Africa's top highlights in one easy trip,” said Saskia Brown, Marketing Representative for The River Club, a lodge 18km from the Falls. “Travellers can now fly to Nairobi for an East African safari experience, to Livingstone for a Victoria Falls adventure, and end in Cape Town for a beach or winelands getaway.”
Another Zambian air connection to the Victoria Falls is offered by Proflight Zambia, which flies thrice daily between Lusaka and Livingstone, pointed outKeira Irwin, Commercial Director.
Alternatively, a short hop on the airline from Lusaka to airstrips in the Lower Zambezi take travellers downstream of the Falls, where exceptional game viewing can be combined with fishing and canoeing adventures.
"Construction work is under way on a new passenger terminal at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka, which will create an efficient new hub for passengers throughout the region,” said Irwin. "Domestic flights are timed to connect with international schedules, thus enabling efficient access to all tourist destinations through the Lusaka hub.”