By KENNEDY MUPESENI –
DEVELOPMENT of the aviation industry for Zambia is a critical factor in helping the landlocked country to enhance its connectivity.
In the last few years, the country has seen major developments in the aviation sector despite the challenges.
In terms of air traffic flow, the aviation industry has since 2000, registered a growth rate of at least 10 per cent year-on-year, which is significant.
Lusaka’s Kenneth Kaunda International Airport (KKIA) recorded a historic one million passengers for 2013.
This is the first time in the history of the airport and the aviation sector that the one-million-passenger mark has been attained.
There has also been a slight increase in the number of airlines flying to Zambia with the recent witnessing of the maiden flight of two new airlines Mahogany Air and FastJet.
The major destinations for locally owned, Mahogany Air would be Sowezi in North-Western Province, Chipata in Eastern Province as well as other destinations like Mfuwe.
This is expected to encourage tourism in most of these areas.
FastJet is currently flying between Lusaka and Dar-es-salaam in Tanzania with intentions of launching flights in the local routes.
This brings to 13, the total number of airlines flying to Zambia.
Emirates is now flying daily; KLM is doing four flights weekly while the major airline, South African Airways, flies about three times in a day.
There is also Kenya Airways that flies in twice a day, the Ethiopian Airlines which also flies in twice a day.
Then, there other smaller regional airlines like South African Express which comes once in a week and South African Air-links, which jets in twice in a week at the three main airports.
Mahogany Air chief executive officer Jim Belemu said the airline had come to the domestic air market because of the business environment the Government was creating in the country.
“We have come on to the market believing that the domestic market is increasing due to the business developments taking place in far flung areas such as North-Western, Eastern and other provinces,” Dr Belemu said.
He said the company spent over K8 million to establish the airline and that the cost was expected to go up when the operations commence.
NACL managing director Robinson Misitala says NACL’s major plan was to attract more airlines to Zambia to foster regional partnerships.
This would market the local airports thereby attracting passengers to the airlines.
“Infrastructure development still remains at the top of our priority list in 2014 because we are in a hurry to change some things to provide leadership in the aviation industry and to achieve our desired goal of becoming the provider of world class airport and air navigation services,” Mr Misitala said.
He said there was ample evidence that NACL was on course with what was set out to achieve in the five-year-strategic plan developed in 2012.
The objectives of the plan was to transform the corporation through infrastructure development, adherence to quality management systems, rebranding of the company, improvement of income generating streams and enhancing the operational efficiency.
In terms of infrastructure development, Mr Misitala says the Harry Mwaanga Nkumbula International Airport was almost complete with only a few finishing touches remaining such as installation of elevators, kitchen and restaurant fittings and furnishing of lounges.
The launch for the new terminal in Livingstone is therefore scheduled for next quarter.
For the KKIA, he explains that construction works for the new international airport are expected to start soon.
Mr Misitala indicates that the contractor had submitted the architectural drawings of the structure that will occupy approximately 34,000 square metres, while the government through the line ministry had released K140 million advance payments for the construction to begin.
Construction will be done in phases with the passenger terminal and associate facilities expected to be completed first, while the rest of the structures like the presidential terminal, cargo terminal, office complex and catering facilities will be completed later.
The total cost for the project is US$360 million.
As for Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport in Ndola, he says the current airport which began as a British Army base in 1938, located between industrial neighbourhoods and a number of townships was now deemed too small to accommodate the anticipated
growth in both passenger and cargo traffic.
“Our plan is to relocate the airport to a new site.
The government has made available 2,000 hectares of land in the state-owned Chichele Plantation located between four major towns on the Copperbelt; that is Ndola, Mufulira, Kitwe and Luanshya,” he said.
The contract for the construction of this US$522 million airport was awarded to a Chinese contractor AVIC international holding corporation last year.
He, however, says the corporation was yet to finalise on a number of issues before the commissioning of works could begin.
Air Navigation director Frank Chinambu said the corporation would also continue investing in acquisition of modern equipment to enable it provide world-class services on the air navigation side.
“Last year we started the process of acquiring the radar surveillance system, VHF Communication System and the Rural Aerodrome Communication System among other technologies.
“All this is in support of our drive to make Zambia a regional hub like Oliver Tambo International Airport in South Africa and Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Kenya,” Mr Chinambu said.
He said Zambia was well positioned to become a hub because of its central positioning and that the global trends the country was embracing would make it compete on the same platform as other hubs on the continent.
Mr Chinambu says the last major project upgrade was carried out in 1987 and that, the equipment has reached end of life resulting in high maintenance costs.
He said the major upgrade would comprise communications, navigation surveillance, air traffic management, human resource development, which would help management, control, monitoring and maintenance of safe separation of aircrafts
Mr Chinambu also said the uprade of the Aeronautical Information Management System and the Implementation of Automated Weather Stations (AWOS) was in progress.
He says NACL will carry out an airspace study to assess the strategic optimisation of
air navigation service provision to assist in reviewing investment strategies in the medium and long term.
These projects are expected to gobble up at least US$40 million.
Commenting on the developments in the aviation industry, Transport, Works, Supply and Communications Minister Yamfwa Mukanga says the Government is committed to the development of international airports, as demonstrated by the release of the funds to carry out the project at KKIA.
Mr Mukanga says Government was happy that preparation works for the reconstruction and expansion had commenced.
“In the next two months we are going to see the camps being set up and more works being done because there are a lot of things that should be done before the reconstruction and expansion of the airport commences,” he said.
Mr Mukanga said Zambians should take advantage of the infrastructure development and invest in the air transport business to reduce air fares in the country.
“Government has placed infrastructure in the aviation industry as priority to further give an enabling environment to investors in the sector.
“I, therefore, wish to challenge investors particularly Zambians to take keen interest to invest in the industry in order to lower the cost of air fares in the country,”
Mr Mukanga said.
The development of the aviation industry will stimulate the tourism industry by offering connectivity to major tourism destinations in the country.