The Chinese-rehabilitated Victoria Falls International Airport on Wednesday welcomed its biggest wide-bodied aircraft to date when South African Airways (SAA) landed an Airbus A330-200 carrying 159 passengers from Johannesburg.
The aircraft, with a capacity of 222 passengers, landed to the traditional water cannon salute from fire tenders from the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe and left on the return trip with 186 passengers.
SAA country manager for Zimbabwe Winnie Muchanyuka told The Herald Business that there was a lot of potential on the Johannesburg-Victoria Falls route and hoped that traffic would remain high to sustain use of the big aircraft.
“We still have an even bigger aircraft, an A340-600, which can still fly into Victoria Falls,” she said.
Upgrading of the airport by China Jiangsu International to a passenger handling capacity of 2 million per year from the previous 500,000 began in 2013 and was financed through a 150 million-U.S.-dollar loan from China Export-Import Bank.
President Robert Mugabe commissioned the new-look airport in November 2016, but part of the infrastructure such as the international terminal, runway and control tower had already become operational by December 2015.
Expansion of the airport was done in two phases, with the first involving construction of the new terminal, a fire station, a control tower, a 4-km runway, roads, a car park and conversion of the existing 2.2-km runway into a taxi way.
The second phase involved renovation, upgrading and conversion of the old terminal building into a fully-fledged domestic terminal.
The government hopes that the upgrading and expansion of the airport will attract more international airlines and bring more tourists to Zimbabwe’s prime tourist destination and one of the seven natural wonders of the world — the Victoria Falls.
Ethiopian Airlines has already announced plans to start flying direct to Victoria Falls from Addis Ababa at the end of March 2017 while Kenya Airways will follow suit in May, flying direct from Nairobi. Enditem