By JOWIT SALUSEKI-
COPPERBELT Province, with a population of over two million people, has attracted large-scale investments in various sectors.
These range from mining, agriculture, infrastructure, manufacturing, to wholesale and retail trade.
In a bid to ensure that investors and passengers enjoy the comfort of flying in and out of the resource endowed province, the Government, through Zambia Airports Corporation Limited (ZACL), recently begun the construction of the $397 million new Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport in Ndola.
The international airport is nearly 100 percent complete and is waiting to be commissioned by the President.
The multi- million ultra-modern airport has been built through a loan obtained from China’s Export and Import (EXIM) Bank.
Zambia’s new international airport is located some 20 kilometres west of Ndola, off the Kitwe-Ndola highway.
Construction of the airport has been an emotive issue.
Prior to commencement of the project, the Government promised to fully compensate the hundreds of displaced settlers who had lived on the land from time immemorial.
The author was among those who covered an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) undertaken by the Zambia Environment Management Agency (ZEMA) with stakeholders at Ndola Girls Technical Secondary School.
The new airport is in proximity to the school.
It is near the spot where Swedish-born Dag Hammarskjöld, an economist and diplomat who served as the second United Nations (UN) secretary general, died in a plane crash on September 18, 1961 as he tried to bring peace to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Chinese company, AVIC International, was hired to design an also build the airport.
The new airport’s design includes a 12,000sqm terminal building with a capacity of one million passengers, a 28-metre-high control tower, a fire station, aircraft hangar, a 3.5km runway and a 50-room hotel.
The class E runway will be able to accommodate large aircraft such as Boeing 747/777, Airbus 350 and MD 11.
According to Copperbelt Province Permanent Secretary Bright Nundwe, President Edgar Lungu is expected to commission the new international airport any time soon.
“We’re just waiting for a few components to arrive from South Africa to completely finish the works before President Lungu officially opens the airport sometime this month,” Mr Nundwe said in an interview.
Not too long ago, an Ethiopian Airways plane mistakenly landed at the new airport which is yet to be opened to the public.
It is worth noting that the new Ndola airport marks the first time in over 50 years that Zambia has developed a large airport after Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, formerly Lusaka International Airport, which was built in 1967.
AVIC International Senior Consultant Lei Yingqi said the company hasensured that the works are completed on time.
The contractor has employed about 70 Chinese workers and almost 300 local people.
With the completion of the new airport, the facility will now replace Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport, formerly Ndola International Airport.
The Simon Mwansa KapwepweInternational Airport started as a military base for the British colonial government in 1938.
It was converted for civilian use in 1958.
Over the years, residential houses in townships such as Itawa and Mackenzie have been developed around the site and, as a result, almost 2.5km parallel runways cannot be extended to accommodate the latest wide-body planes that require longer landing strips.
There is, equally, no space at the old airport where a modern terminal building and other structures can be constructed.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which had approved the construction of the new airport,said it would ensure that the facility meets international standards.
It will be the first time that the CAA, which was established in 2012 with financial and technical assistance from the European Union (EU), is overseeing construction of an airport.
The CAA seeks to provide effective and efficient regulatory services to the aviation industry, ensure legal compliance and provide safety assurance with value for money for all air transport users in Zambia.
CAA Director General Gabriel Lesa said the new airport will enhance the institution’s aviation oversight.
The airport will also contribute positively to the relevance of Lusaka’s Zambia Air Services Training Institute (ZASTI) in the provision of manpower.
ZASTI will be required to train pilots and other aviation professionals who would be required to manage the new airport.
Unlike old airports that were developed as strictly landing facilities, the Copperbelt International Airport has incorporated into its design a 50-room hotel, from which it will generate income outside aeronautical services.
According to Mr Lei, the airport has a category 10 fire station compared to a category eight facility which is at the old Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport.
Those in authority say, there is justification for Ndola to have a new international airport going by the growing numbers of both local and international passengers being handled by Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport.
For instance, in 2004, both local and international passenger numbers at the old airport were below 50,000, although the aggregate was slightly above that figure, according to ZACL statistics.
The aggregate figure for both local and international passengers shot above 200,000 in 2013, representing an increase of 300 per cent in slightly less than 10 years.
It was only in 2016 that the aggregate number of both local and international passengers fell slightly below 250,000.
As the new airport will have a capacity for one million passengers, its actual output is expected to be about 25 per cent, if statistics for Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport are taken into consideration.
A novel aspect is that the new international airport will incorporate freight transport, an operation that is not part of current Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport.
According to projected statistics from ZACL, the new international airport is expected to handle 8,000tonnes of cargo per annum.
Cargo planes from Europe, Asia and other parts of the world will be capable of landing owing to the category E runaway.
From 2007 to date, Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport has been handling an average of between 8,000 and 10,000 domestic and international planes.
It has been estimated that the new airport will have 20,000 take-offs per year.
There is no doubt that Zambia needs modern airports to stimulate the aviation industry which collapsed after Zambia Airways was liquidated in 1994.
As a result of that liquidation, ZASTI could not train commercial pilots, something that the Government, through the CAA, intends to reverse.
The Zambian Government has on several occasions indicated that it would ‘revive’ the national airline in partnership with Ethiopian Airways, especially after the EU lifted a ban on aircraft originating from the country from landing in the Eurozone.
However, with COVID-19 slowing down air travel, ZACL has to work hard to attract more airlines to the new international airport so that it serves several local and foreign passengers.
This is the only way the 1 million-passenger terminal building at the new airport will fully be used.
It would also be the only way that ZACL will have a good return on investment so that it pays back the $397 million loan it obtained from China.
With Kenneth Kaunda, Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula airports in Lusaka and Livingstone and now the Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport completed, the public is hopefulthat the airports will help raise the profile of Zambia’s aviation industry.