Fastjet Zimbabwe plans to apply for a licence to service the Harare-Bulawayo route although fears abound Government could be playing lip service to its open skies policy to protect State-owned carrier Air Zimbabwe.
This comes as Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa, last week, while officially opening the 10th edition of the Sanganai/Hlanganani World Tourism Expo, said Government had already adopted an open-skies policy and was working on a raft of incentives to enable penetration of new markets.
Minister Chinamasa said there was going to be serious debate in Cabinet to consider incentives of a period of two or three years granting free air-navigation and free landing rates, being incentives targeted at attracting foreign airlines to come back with the objective of taking Zimbabwe to the position it was 1999.
However, there are serious reservations about Government’s sincerity to the Open Skies policy, especially as it applies to routes currently considered profitable and being serviced by State-owned airliner, Air Zimbabwe. According to a draft board report seen by Business Weekly, fastjet believes that the Harare-Bulawayo route is a natural growth point for the business.
“The use of the E145 aircraft and additional fleet planned for Zimbabwe along with the researched and expected traffic volumes make the Harare-Bulawayo route a natural growth point for the business”.
Already, well-placed sources at Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe have said that “fastjet have expressed interest for a licence to ply the Harare-Bulawayo route, but their efforts are being blocked by the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure Development.
“The ministry is looking at protecting Air Zimbabwe, which is currently servicing that route. This is not the first that Government had to intervene in some routes to protect the National Airliner,” said a well-placed source adding that Fly Africa was also among some of the airlines that were denied licences to operate the lucrative route.
Transport and Infrastructural Development minister Jorum Gumbo is on record saying although the Government wanted to promote an open skies policy — some of the routes would remain a preserve for Air Zimbabwe . However, Minister Gumbo yesterday said he had not seen the application by fastjet for a licence to ply the Harare-Bulawayo route, adding Government was willing to open up all routes to competitor operators.
“We build airports to be used by many airlines, not just one (AirZim). When the (operator) numbers increase, the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (State avian industry regulator) makes money,” Minister Gumbo said yesterday.
Air Zimbabwe flies the Harare to Bulawayo route at least once every day from Sunday to Friday, except Saturdays. On some occasions the airline makes round trips through Bulawayo to or from Harare, Johannesburg and Victoria Falls. It however, is not reliable as it often subjects passengers to innumerable delays.
fastjet Zimbabwe spokesperson Faith Chaitezvi confirmed that “fastjet intends to grow its route network over time to enable affordable inbound and domestic travel for everyone.” She added that flights between Bulawayo and Harare were at the top of fastjet’s agenda along with plans to fly to other areas in the country, as the airline’s fleet grows.
“The carrier plans to engage with authorities to shape the plans,” she said, welcoming the statement by Minister Chinamasa that Zimbabwe was opening its skies to any airline interested in plying routes into or within the country.
The airline is presently running a campaign in South Africa to promote regional tourism and visits to Zimbabwe and recently implemented an interline agreement with Emirates whereby connecting traffic from Harare should increase onward travel to destinations serviced by fastjet. The airline would also like to open new routes elsewhere in the region such as the Johannesburg- Antananarivo (Madagascar) route, Antananarivo-Nosy Bay (Madagascar), and in Tanzania Dar es Salaam- Kigoma-Mtwara routes.
“The entry into service of the E90 at our Dar base allows us to start flying to Kigoma and Mtwara routes that could not have been considered with the A319, which is too big an aircraft for these routes. Introducing services between Dar es Salaam and Kigoma/Mtwara realises multiple strategic purposes.