A Chinese construction group will officially start the massive overhaul of a major Zimbabwean tourist airport near the Victoria Falls on Friday, a two-year project aimed at raising the airport’s passenger handling capacity and ushering in international flights.
The overhaul of Victoria Falls Airport, estimated to cost 1.25 billion Yuan (US$202 million), has financed a loan from the Export-Import Bank of China. It includes extending the current runway, building a second 4,000 metre long runway, a 100,000 sq. metre tarmac, a 20,000 sq. metre new terminal, and car parks, said Zhu Haifeng, the project manager of Jiangsu International Economic and Technical cooperation Group Ltd.
David Chawota, chief executive of Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe says, after completion, the airport’s runway would be able to accommodate wide-body aircraft like BOEING B747-400s and Airbus A340s. The airport’s passenger handling capacity will also surge from 500,000 to 1.5 million annually and airlines like KLM and Emirates both expressed intention to launch long-haul international flights to Victoria Falls, instead of commuting via Harare.
“The airport’s operations won’t be affected during the two-year overhaul”, the official said.
Victoria Falls, on the Zambezi River at the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia, is one of the world’s largest and most spectacular waterfalls. Referred to as “the cloud that thunders” by locals, the waterfall is also a major tourist attraction in southern Africa.
Over the recent years the tourist inflow has increasingly been affected by transportation bottlenecks, it is more than ten hours’ drive from the Zimbabwean capital Harare and the tiny Victoria Falls airport serves only small regional jets from Harare and Johannesburg.
The government of Zimbabwe expects tourism to become a booster of its economy, now largely sustained by mining and agriculture. Zimbabwe and Zambia will co-host the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) summit this August at Victoria Falls. Organizers say it will be a rare chance to showcase African tourism.
Date: 12 April 2013