The minister of transport and infrastructural development Hon. Felix Mhona, urged the national carrier, Air Zimbabwe to move with the times and be more competitive as the country continues to open its airspace.
Responding to questions in parliament, the minister said the fifth amendment given to international airlines will not be withdrawn because Air Zimbabwe is back in the air.
Hon. Dexter Nduna had posed a question on the degree of fifth amendment rights to be given to international airlines to allow them to ferry passengers from one city to another within the country and if it was not going to harm the resurgent Air Zimbabwe.
The fifth amendment right allows the country to ply within a country, which is prohibited as an airline is supposed to fly back to the country of origin before flying to the next city or country.
For example, to fly from Harare to Johannesburg, Ethiopian Airways has to land in Addis Ababa before landing in Johannesburg.
Minister Mhona said, “We have bilateral service agreements with different airlines and in certain instances, we then allow an airline to drop and pick passengers. In this particular instance, it will then promote easy movement of people where an airline would land in a particular country and under normal circumstances, it has to pass through its town of origin.”
Other members of parliament quizzed the bilateral agreements saying they need to be revisited when the local carrier gets more flights. Hon. Kenneth Musanhi said, “As Zimbabwe, we cannot compete with the rest of the world though we try to be as fair as we can to these other airlines. We cannot compete with them as they are a step ahead of us.”
The members of parliament argued that if the ministry of transport does not protect our own industry and allow the fifth freedom to these foreign airlines, it might as well mean that we do not have an airline and we would rather close than say we are opening it to fair competition with the rest of the world.
“In the aviation sector, it is also very important to promote business in terms of competition so that in terms of pricing the airfares, we also have to be competitive. In this instance and since we are saying we are open for business, there is no way we would also want to block other airlines from flying into our air space,” said Minister Mhona.
He concurred that it is a noble cause to say there is need to protect our own but at the same time Air Zimbabwe also needs to be competitive as an airline.
He added that, “I am happy that we will also be in a position to compete and make business sense at the end of the day. At this juncture, it would not be of good practice to the nation to say those airlines that were enjoying the fifth freedom rights will be withdrawn because we are now flying into the same air space.
“I would urge even our parastatal Air Zimbabwe to be competitive so that they also compete against those other airlines.”
This comes as the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport is being capacitated and upgraded to be one of the best in the region. The airport currently accommodates 2,5 million passengers and is earmarking six million passengers.
Therefore, it means we will also enhance business, so it calls for players to participate in that space. This will assure and allay the fears of the parliamentarians that there is enough business for anyone who is very competitive.
Minister Mhona added, “At the end of the day we are not saying other airlines are also flying into the country because of our policy of engagement and re-engagement, we are calling for players to fly into the country.”
Analyst Kudzaishe Mawodza weighed in saying it also buttresses the issue of tourism, as there is no way we can invite players and also say you cannot carry passengers.
“We are saying we are open for business as a nation and we want to enhance our tourism sector thereby calling for more players to fly. We are also saying we will be having a state-of-the-art airport which will call for the wide bodied planes to land at the airport. This is a wake-up call to whoever is participating in the air space to be competitive,” he added.
Air Zimbabwe cannot just ban other airlines and have passengers to themselves but can also participate competitively on the market and make sure that business is viable – Harare