By Patrick Chitumba
Air Zimbabwe flew back to Harare on Sunday afternoon with only one passenger from Victoria Falls as the national airline struggles to restore customer confidence.
air zimbabwe plane in Singapore
Air Zimbabwe Boeing 767 at Singapore Airport
The airline had earlier landed in the resort town with 16 passengers on its MA60 plane from Harare. The plane carries over 60 passengers. A source at Victoria Falls International Airport said:
“The national carrier landed with a mere 16 passengers from Harare and departed from Victoria Falls International Airport with only one passenger. The flights had to be taken besides the fact that there were a few clients all in an effort to restore customer confidence following the cancellation of flights because of the strike by its workers.”
Air Zimbabwe last Thursday said it would resume flights after getting US$2,8 million from the Government. The airline said it had incurred a US$6,8 million loss because of the strike. However, no passengers turned up for the flights.
Acting group chief executive officer Innocent Mavhunga said: “There is nothing unusual about that. We have not been operating for the past two months and we only resumed on Friday. We are re-entering the market so to speak.”
He said the airline expected business to be low for the next six months. “We are looking at three to six months to resume normal loads. Clients often book flights way in advance, so we cannot expect an overnight change in the situation.”
Last Friday, flights on the Harare-Bulawayo and Harare-Victoria Falls routes, which were scheduled to resume, failed to take off because none of the five planes took off. The Harare-Johannesburg flight, which was scheduled for yesterday, was deferred to tomorrow.
Victoria Falls International Airport manager Ronnie Masawi said there was need for concerted efforts by all stakeholders to deal with the challenge. “There is a need for concerted efforts by all the stakeholders for the clients to regain confidence in the airline,” said Masawi.
While Airzim’s business started on a low note, tour and adventure operators welcomed its return. The operators in separate interviews said arrivals, specially of regional and domestic tourists into Victoria Falls had been negatively affected by the unavailability of Air Zimbabwe.
“This is the peak period of the tourism sector and we need all forms of transport to bring in tourists into Victoria Falls and therefore the return of Air Zimbabwe is a very welcome development.
“Over the past months, conferencing packages had affected hotel occupancy as well as activities as a lot of people whose flights were cancelled when the strike started failed to travel to Victoria Falls,” said Ben Tesa, the managing director at Khanondo Safaris. Members of the Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe welcomed Air Zimbabwe’s return.