Zambia’s Aviation set for revival

By Nawa Mutumweno – Zambia’s dream to be a regional aviation may be realised, what with the ambitious project that has pumped close to $1 billion into rehabilitation and upgrading of the country’s four international airports.

Information obtained from the National Airports Corporation Limited (NACL) confirms that financing amounting to that colossal figure has been made by Government to transform the four airports into world-class facilities that will appeal to the discerning tourist and business visitor alike.

Kenneth Kaunda International Airport (KKIA) in Lusaka gets $360 million; Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport (SMKIA) in Ndola $522 million; Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International Airport (HMNIA) in Livingstone $50 million; while the cost of revamping Mfuwe International Airport (MIA) in eastern Zambia is yet to be determined.

’When the airports’ transformation is completed, KKIA specifically, will stand shoulder to shoulder with the best airports in Africa, both in infrastructure as well as in service delivery,’’ Robinson Misitala, NACL managing director enthused.

The overhauling of KKIA was identified as an important component of the company’s five-year strategic plan which seeks to modernise the four airports, thus boosting Zambia’s tourism sector.

‘’It goes without saying that as people fly in and out of a country, the first and last image they carry is centred on the airport outlook. Hence, we strongly feel the need to give visitors to Zambia something positive when they fly in and out of Lusaka, or when they use any of the three other international airports,’’ he added.

Of these works, the reconstruction of HMNIA was treated as the first priority. It has been upgraded fully to meet international standards, befitting of a tourist capital with best management practices, in readiness for the high- profile event co-hosted by Zambia and Zimbabwe last August, the UNWTO General Assembly.

The Livingstone airports now emits excellence with a state-of-the-art international passenger terminal building on a 7 000 square metres of land. Thus, the old terminal building which was erected in 1952 is now being converted for domestic and VIP purposes only. It will be rehabilitated thoroughly under Phase Three of the project.

After completion, the new terminal will have features including elevators, a banking hall, upper-floor restaurant and viewing terrace. Other features worth of note include holding lounge, water feature, curtain walling, duty-free and retail shops.

The terminal also houses electronic spaces, flight information displays, CCTV and access control, a modern central air-conditioning system, fire alarm system, security agencies offices, smoking lounges, four entry gates and two exit gates.

The redevelopment of KKIA encompasses mammoth construction works which are scheduled to start in June this year. It should be appreciated that in both national and international interests, the reconstruction of KKIA has been long overdue since the outlook of the capital’s airport points to the country’s modernity levels. No doubt the current airport, which was commissioned in 1967, three years after Zambia’s independence from Britain, really needs a facelift!

This project is based on a master-plan drawn up by an aviation consultancy group, Leigh Fisher Associates, which was funded by the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), The main features of the master-plan are two major construction works: a new ideal passenger terminal with an annual capacity of four million passengers – twice the current capacity – and a commercial complex with conference facilities, a shopping mall and two hotels – a 30-room hotel for transit passengers and an 80-room hotel which will be open to the general public.

The new-look KKIA will be a masterpiece with major structures being a new two-storey terminal building with facilities ranging from 22 check-in counters, 12 border channels and six security counters.

Other provisions will be an exclusive presidential terminal with ministerial and government VIPs; a new air-traffic control building and tower and a new NACL office complex, new car park, new car terminal in addition to a new apron and taxiways.

The KKIA runway, which if four-kilometres long, is adequate enough for landing of the trendy Airbus 340-300 which carries 365 passengers and the Airbus 380 which takes 500 passengers.

To show Government’s commitment to the resuscitation of the country’s tourism industry, there are also plans to revive the national flag carrier, Zambia Airways, which was liquidated two decades ago in 1994. With these noble intentions, it is imperative that NACL operates in a sustainable manner. To this end, Government recently recapitalised NACL with $947 million.

The plan for the SMKIA are that it will be relocated to a congenial site, which is centrally from Ndola, Kitwe, Luanshya and Mufulira towns. It is expected to add a picturesque element to the Copperbelt capital, which is also home to the ultra-modern Levy Mwanawasa Stadium, named after the country’s late third president. Mfuwe is also in the rehabilitation plan.

To underscore Government’s commitment to enhancing the country’s tourism sector, the plans to revive the liquidated Zambia Airways have reached an advanced stage. It has been realised, and rightfully so, that not having a national flag carrier has negatively impacted on tourism, which is one of the growth sectors on the country’s economic landscape.

Government says it has been holding talks with various aviation stakeholders to realise its plan to re-establish the long-awaited national airline by mid this year, it has been learnt.

According to Minister of Transport, Works, Supply and Communication, Yamfwa Mukanga, Government has in the recent past engaged plane manufacturing firms such as Boeing and other partners on the development of the airline.

The Civil Aviation Authority Board has since been constituted to facilitate the establishment of the airline.

‘’We are on course and the national airline will be up and running by June,’’ he assured, allaying fears in some quarters that the project has stalled.

Further, the CIA Board has been tasked to appoint an executive director to oversee the operations of the airline.

Government also seeks to engage an equity partner to enable the airline be operationalised under a public private partnership (PPP) arrangement.

Following the Patriotic Front (PF) government’s plan to re-align tourism as one of priority economic sectors, Zambia has intensified its resolve to re-establish a national airline to help boost the industry.

The administration has allocated unprecedented allocations to the tourism industry and provided generous tax incentives for the next five years for Zambians wishing to develop tourism infrastructure in national parks.

Zambia Airways was liquidated in 1994 after some operational problems. Since then the country has had no national carrier with the private sector moving in to fill the void but not matching up to the standard. In recent times, there has been Zambian Airways and Zambezi Airlines which have ‘fallen by the wayside. Until recently, the only Zambian-owned airline was Proflight which flies domestically and in the region (Malawi and Tanzania).

Mahogany Air has invested about K8 million in its operations to establish a second airline in Zambia, employing 30 locals. According to the airline’s chief executive officer Jim Belemu, the company ventured into the aviation industry due to the growing business and to create jobs. The domestic airline market is increasing due to business development taking place across the country.

‘’The cost of setting up this airline is just over K8 million, although we expect the cost to go up as operations have commenced. I am proud to mention that this airline has been put together by Zambians and will be managed by Zambians,’’ he elaborated during the launch of the airline at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport (KKIA) on February 21, 2014.

The airline, whose slogan is ‘Insignia of Zambian Hospitality’, will be operating two 30-seater Embraer 120ER aircraft for domestic routes and charters within the sub-region with its first flight was on March 1. It is expected to introduce regional routes once operations stabilise.

Officiating at the function, Minister of Transport, Works, Supply and Communications, Yamfwa Mukanga, said the coming of Mahogany Air on the market is a positive sign of the development of the aviation sector in the country.

Government has created an enabling environment for the private sector through the private public partnership arrangement to create jobs for the young people in the country.

’I am pleased that the launch is unique in that it is about responding to this enabling environment. The coming in of Mahogany Air on the market will complement the existing operators, and is a positive sign of development,’’ he enthused.

Indeed the Zambian aviation industry is poised for greater days, with the strategic resultant effects of repositioning the country’s tourism into the regional and global realm. Zambia is ready to be explored!