Air Zimbabwe has proposed to review its landing rights, particularly for Victoria Falls International Airport, a development which, if successful, will see all international flights into the country being rerouted to Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport from Victoria Falls and Bulawayo.
The airline, which was placed under reconstruction last October, is looking to set up the RGM as a regional hub.
“We are mulling to review our landing rights for all international flights. Our thinking is, as we develop Harare (the RGM International Airport) into a hub, currently we have other airlines flying direct into Victoria Falls, into Bulawayo.
“We are thinking these should fly into Harare and allow us to distribute all those passengers around Zimbabwe. By so doing we are effectively creating our own hub,” he said.
Victoria Falls Airport is currently directly accessible from that city through the fifth freedom rights arrangement to all the major airline networks,” said assistant administrator Tonderayi Mukubvu.
The fifth freedom allows an airline to carry revenue traffic between foreign countries as a part of services connecting the airline’s own country. It is the right to carry passengers from one’s own country to a second country, and from that country onward to a third country and so on.
However, Air Zimbabwe administrator Reggie Saruchera of Grant Thornton says the direct accessibility of Victoria Falls Airport works against the airline’s long-term goal of setting the RGM International Airport as a regional hub.
“Yes, we had not capacitated our airline, and it was good wisdom for the Government at that time to let them just go straight and land at Victoria Falls, there was no choice.
“But now, once we have capacitated our airline we can then begin to run all our Harare to Bulawayo, Harare to Victoria Falls, Victoria Falls to Harare, and then the international airlines can come and connect from RGM. We then create the kind of hub that South Africa is creating,” he said.
Since the completion of Victoria Falls Airport’s refurbishment in 2016 in tandem with the granting of the fifth freedom, international and regional airlines have added over 80 000 seats to Victoria Falls. And there are downstream benefits for hotels and lodges in the resort town in terms of improvement in their room occupancy and bookings for the various activities.
Mr Saruchera believes the benefits can be even wider if RGM International Airport becomes the hub.
“South Africa’s OR Tambo International Airport, for example, currently handles around 55 200 people a day. You can imagine a person spending a dollar or two a day if they are 55 200 of them, the impact that it will have on the economy even when the airline makes huge losses. But it will only work when the airline has appropriate aircraft,” he said.
But then Zimbabwe is signatory to the Yamoussoukro Decision.
The Yamoussoukro Decision was a treaty that allowed for open skies among most African countries. The decision was endorsed by 44 members of the African Union in 1999, and became binding in 2002.
The treaty grants fifth freedom transit rights between all of its signatories. It also sought to eliminate restrictions on ownership of airlines and frequency limits on international routes between signatory states. The practical implementation and application of its policies, however, faced a number of setbacks and was not completed by all African Union members. And in 2018, the Single African Air Transport Market was launched with the intent of fully implementing the Yamoussoukro Decision.
Air Zimbabwe executive manager for airline systems and administration Captain Harry Madangure, says some airlines in the region are not in strict adherence to the open skies policy and that a modicum of protection is required for the national airline.
“We are signatories to this Yamoussoukro Decision, which allows fifth freedom rights to carriers within Africa, so we can go and say we want to fly between Johannesburg and Durban, we actually have our airline flying those routes,” he said.
“But in reality even though South Africa is a signatory if we try and do that you will find that there are a lot of stumbling blocks. It will take even five years before we are granted those rights, but with Zimbabwe we just opened up, there was no protection of the national carrier and that needs to be revised.”