Emirates AirlinesFrom : Menafn.com
Nov 14, 2011 (Financial Gazette/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX)

THE government this week launched fresh attempts to woo back international airlines that ditched the country at the height of an unprecedented economic and political crisis that ended in 2008, as efforts to rebuild the country’s tottering economy intensifies.

Tourism Minister, Walter Mzembi, told The Financial Gazette exclusively from London that he was holding talks with international airlines, including British Airways (BA), during his business trip to the UK.

“I am in London on my way to a meeting with Emirates Air to ensure their take-off into Zimbabwe without our bureaucracy at play,” Mzembi said by phone from London.

“I am also talking to BA, Lufthansa, and Virgin. I want them to fly into Victoria Falls for 2013,” he said, referring to the year Zimbabwe and Zambia are expected to jointly host the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly conference in Victoria Falls.

Emirates Airlines indicated recently that it would launch flights into Zimbabwe by February 2012, with five weekly flights connecting Zimb-abwe, Zambia and Dubai.

About 45 global airlines were flying into Zimbabwe in 1996, but all except South African Airways ditched the country. BA pulled out, but serviced its customers into Harare through Comair, an airline based in South Africa. Comair operates scheduled services on domestic trunk routes as a British Airways franchisee.

Austrian Airlines, Qantas, Germa-ny’s Lufthansa, Swissair, KLM of the Netherlands, Balkan Airlines, Air France and Portugal’s TAP, were among the global airlines that

abandoned flights into Zimbabwe as the economy spun out of control, triggering shortages of aviation fuel that often resulted in landing flights being grounded and missing schedules.

On Monday, Mzembi, who was attending the World Travel Markets Fair in London, was scheduled to meet Emirates Air, one of the world’s largest airlines, after which he was to hold crucial discussions with executives from Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic, BA and Lufthansa.

Global airlines would be key to improving international tourists’ accessibility to Zimbabwe and Mzembi hopes to put together a strong flight network to successfully host the UNWTO General Assembly conference.

Striking agreements with any of the top airlines would be a major endorsement for local destinations to tourists and other airlines.

Zimbabwe had placed tourism among key drivers of economic recovery, but erratic performance by Air Zimbabwe, whose planes were grounded for much of this year due to work stoppages by pilots and aviation concerns over its aged aeroplanes, could lead to a dismal performance by the sector.

Emirates Air, one of the airlines targeted by Mzembi, is among the biggest operators in the airline industry.

In 2010, Emirates carried 31,4 million passengers and 1,8 million tonnes of cargo.

In 2007, it announced a historic aircraft order when it signed contracts for 120 Airbus A350s, 11 A380s, and 12 Boeing 777-300ERs, worth an estimated US$34,9 billion.

The first A350 will be delivered in 2015.

BA has a strong historical connection to Zimbabwe, stemming from London’s colonial interests in the southern African country.

BA pulled out of Zimbabwe in October 2007, ending 62 years of service from London, although it had maintained a presence through South Africa’s Comair.

A presence in Zimbabwe would help rebuild high spending British tourists’ confidence on Zimbabwe.

The initiatives by Mzembi came as arrivals into Zimbabwe were said to have grown by 11 percent to 2,2 million in 2010, from two million in 2009, but shy of the 2,5 million arrivals reported in 2003.