Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport in Bulawayo is seriously underutilised.
There is very little air traffic, although the airport can handle wide-bodied aircraft.
At a plenary session during the recent tourism indaba in Bulawayo, JMN International Airport manager Mr Passmore Dewa said concerted efforts should be made by the tourism sector to increase tourist arrivals in Bulawayo.
“We can accommodate a wide body aircraft that can fly from Bulawayo to London non-stop, to Singapore non-stop, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia non-stop and to most European cities non-stop, but it’s not for the airport to re-attract the aircraft,” he said.
“It’s supposed to be concerted efforts because the airlines come, and they are supposed to be attracted by what happens in the city. What is it that you are offering here (Bulawayo) as tourism players that they have to come.
“The airport is just a convenience for them (aircraft) to go in and out. If I am flying to Dubai, I don’t want to spend time at an airport.”
JMN International Airport was commissioned in 2013 after it went through a major upgrade under the first phase of the rehabilitation programme.
During a tour of the airport by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport and Infrastructural Development in September last year, CAAZ said $13 million had been set aside in the National Budget to begin Phase II of JMN International Airport expansion programme.
Mr Dewa said: “This airport can handle some of the biggest aircraft you can think of. Here (JMN International Airport) in terms of the fuelling facilities, runway, the terminal building, we can actually handle an aircraft that is as big as A330 or 767, which can carry up to 300 passengers from here to anywhere in the world”.
Mr Dewa said since 1980, Zimbabwe has signed about 55 bilateral air service agreements with many countries and this presents an opportunity that stakeholders in the tourism industry should exploit.
“We had about 14 European airlines flying into Zimbabwe up until about 1999, major airlines coming to Zimbabwe; coming with the biggest aircraft that you can think of.
“That time in the 1990s, Harare was the hub in the region. We were a destination. We have since stopped to be a destination,” he said.
“We are now a spoke. In aviation terms when we say we are now a spoke, it means we are now feeding into other regional hubs, which is what as a nation we need to start working on.
“So, those are the issues now at national level or policy level we need to have an aircraft strategy. A framework is there, we talk of the Yamoussoukro Declaration, which was signed around 1999.
“That gives room for us, especially African airlines, to fly to any African country and land at any airport in Africa as they please. But we still have these control issues as Government to say ‘no, we still have to negotiate and see whether they can come’. But that framework is there, it’s signed,” he said.