By Lovemore Chikova
The state-of-the-art Victoria Falls International Airport, built by a Chinese firm, is already proving its potential as a premier destination for airlines from various countries.
The airport was built by China Jiangsu International Economic and Technical Cooperation Group and commissioned by President Mugabe in November last year.
While it is important that the new-look airport is a symbol of the progress being made in Zimbabwe, it significantly represents the progressive relations between the country and China.
It is a sample of what can be achieved in other areas of Zimbabwe’s economic revival, as the Asian economic giant has since indicated its willingness to help the country in all aspects.
Well, the good economic and political relations between China and Zimbabwe cannot be in doubt, as they have been well rooted in mutual trust and win-win cooperation.
What is now critical is to take these relations forward and make them start benefiting people from both sides.
And there is no doubt that establishments such as the Victoria Falls International Airport will help bring the benefits to the grassroots.
A few months after its commissioning, international airlines are already stampeding to land at the airport.
The end result is that more tourists will eventually flock to Victoria Falls from all over the world, as the new airport can now accommodate planes of different sizes and shapes.
Ethiopian Airlines has already started flying directly to Victoria Falls from Addis Ababa en-route to Gaborone, Botswana, while South African Airways has unveiled a bigger plane, an Airbus A330-200, for the route.
Kenyan Airways, Emirates, Qatar and RwandAir have also announced they will be flying directly to Victoria Falls.
Etihad has a code share with British Airways to fly to the world acclaimed tourism destination, while Lufthansa has a similar arrangement with South African Airways.
This is in addition to other airlines that have been flying to the premier tourist destination like British Airways, South African Airways, ComAir, Air Namibia and Air Zimbabwe.
For many years, the Victoria Falls has been touted as critical to Zimbabwe’s economic turnaround, but its potential has been suppressed.
Now, the proverbial “phoenix” is set to rise, thanks to the Chinese firm for reconstructing the airport to international standards.
There is no doubt that China Jiangsu International did an exceptional job and managed to exhibit well the spirit that characterises China’s rise from poverty a few years ago to a moderately rich society.
The construction and refurbishment of the airport was made possible by a $150 million concessional loan facility provided to Zimbabwe by the China Export and Import Bank in 2012.
The civil engineering works began in 2013, resulting in the construction of a new four-kilometre long and 60 metres wide runway, an international terminal building, a fire station, control tower and installing of state-of-the-art specialist aviation equipment.
The old airport was also renovated and will now serve as the domestic terminal building.
President Mugabe was so impressed by the work done by China Jiangsu International, which he said would enhance cooperation between Zimbabwe and China.
“China Jiangsu International, the Chinese contractor engaged on this project, met our requirements,” he said while commissioning the new airport.
“We commend them for the professional and efficient way they worked on this project and we will not hesitate to engage them again, should other projects arise.”
By working on Victoria Falls airport, China Jiangsu International has ensured that air transport plays a major role, not only in Zimbabwe, but in the whole of SADC region in trade and tourism.
This is expected to foster regional integration.
The expansion of Victoria Falls International Airport has greatly improved the equipment and facilities, as well as the capability of safeguarding civil aviation security.
Reception of international tourists is now expected to increase from 500 000 people per year to nearly two million people following the new construction and renovation.
Tourism is one of the top foreign currency earners in Zimbabwe and the envisaged increase in tourist arrivals following the expansion of the airport will boost the country’s reserves.
It is also expected that the rapid development of tourism in Victoria Falls will drive up the tertiary industry, including transportation, post and telecommunications, real estate, business, insurance, culture and entertainment.
Apart from that, the expansion of the airport also brings jobs to local people, horns the skills of Zimbabwean technicians, teaches Chinese big time construction techniques and management and helps promote the construction industry in the country.
Jiangsu province, which owns China Jiangsu International, has invested in five projects in Zimbabwe, with the contracted investment standing at $44,21 million, among which four were carried out after 2011.
These projects involve the iron and steel metallurgy, agriculture and construction and installation.
In 2015, Jiangsu’s trade volume with Zimbabwe totaled $56,39 million, up by 18,4 percent from a year earlier.
Of this total volume, $53,80 million was from Jiangsu’s export to Zimbabwe, up by 72,8 percent, $2,59 million import, down by 84,3 percent.
In Southern Africa, Victoria Falls International Airport is now regarded as a modern airport, for all its technical and application dimensions have reached high standards of today’s international civil aviation services.
But is important that in such future projects with the Chinese, the Zimbabwean Government looks at concerns that can derail progress.
These include observations by China Jiangsu International that the Victoria Falls International Airport was haunted by high transport cost of imported cargo, slow and complicated customs clearance and cumbersome procedure of certification.
According to the firm, there was also slow approval of designing and construction drawings, shortage of local supply of major construction materials like cement, gravel and fuel oil in particular, frequent power and water failure and lack of qualified technical personnel.
But what is important is that wide body airplanes such as Boeing 747 and 767 and Airbus 340 and 380 can now easily land and take-off from Victoria Falls.
The rapid development of tourism due the work done on the airport will also drive up other related industries in Zimbabwe.
China Jiangsu International is the same firm that was contracted to expand Joshua Nkomo International Airport in Bulawayo, work it did satisfactorily.
The same firm is expected to work on expanding the Harare International Airport.
China Jiangsu International regards Victoria Falls International Airport as “one of the most extensive projects” of its overseas branch.