Yet another player is attempting to enter the Zimbabwean airline market, this time its regional safari operators Wilderness Safaris whose Zimbabwean arm has applied for a commercial airline licence to service domestic, regional and international routes.
Established in 1983, Wilderness Safaris is a conservation organisation and ecotourism company dedicated to providing responsible tourism in the areas in which it operates camps and safaris namely: Botswana, Congo, Kenya, Namibia, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Seychelles.
Wilderness' pending entry into the Zimbabwean aviation scene along side Sol Air, Fresh Air, Phoenix Air, Bumi Air and Anjin Investments, comes as some players in the troubled country's tourism industry have had to take matters into their own hands and provide their own air services - case in point "Bumi Air", a recently established air service operating between Harare, Bumi Hills Safari Lodge (near Kariba) and Victoria Falls - a route that used to be plied by Air Zimbabwe.
|Bumi Air in Harare (Luck Brown)|
In July, controversial diamond mining firm, Anjin Investments, a 50/50 joint venture between the government-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC) and Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Company Ltd of China, also applied for a commercial airline licence to service domestic, regional and international routes, having acquired a new 12-seater corporate-commuter aircraft shortly thereafter.
Prospects for an established national carrier akin to the now quasi-defunct Air Zimbabwe appear to be bleak to non existent. Having asked rival South African Airways in early August to be the official carrier for the United Nations World Tourism Organisation General Assembly (UNWTO) set for next year in Victoria Falls, it appears that not even the Zimbabwean Government is banking on Air Zimbabwe (UM) returning to viable and reliable service any time soon, though with 2 Airbus A320s already painted in UM colours, Air Zimbabwe may just have the last laugh.
Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) chief executive officer Karikoga Kaseke said:
"Even if Air Zimbabwe was flying, what we are looking at is access to destinations,” Kaseke said. “We look at an airline that has got the most connection from all destinations. “So South African Airways is well connected because it flies to far many more destinations than any other airlines. “So it’s not about Air Zimbabwe’s woes that we are talking about here. “Even if Air Zimbabwe was not having any problems, I think the first reasonable decision would be to say South African Airways is the preferred airline.”"
|1Time/FreshAir in Harare (Luck Brown)|
In recent weeks, the stakes have been upped - South African LCC 1Time recently announced its entry into a joint venture with local outfit Nu-Aero, to be called "Fresh Air" with scheduled flights to start flights in September, Emirates (EK), 1 year on from its inaugural Harare flight, is to next year increase capacity on the route to a Boeing 777-300ER whilst LAM Mozambique (TM) and Dutch carrier KLM are both set to return from late October. With more and more international carriers expressing interest in serving Harare, local players are going to find it harder and harder to create and maintain a viable niche for themselves should they choose the regional and international route.