THE Airports Company of Zimbabwe (ACZ) was created after the unbundling of the Civil Aviation of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) in 2019. ACZ currently manages and operates a network of eight strategically-located airports around the country, providing the most direct and fastest access to the country’s tourist resort and trade areas. ACZ is currently undertaking a US$153 million upgrade and refurbishment of the Robert Gabriel (RG) Mugabe International Airport, the main gateway into Zimbabwe. Our Group Features Editor Emmerson Njanjamangezi (EN) toured the airport with ACZ CEO Tawanda Gusha (TG) to get an update on the modernization project of the RG Mugabe Airport as well as the ongoing expansion of other local airports.
EN: Congratulations on Eurowings Discover, which recently launched flights into Zimbabwe. May you give an update on international airlines that have returned to Zimbabwe with the easing of Covid-19 restrictions?
TG: Thanks for that, it is a massive step in the positive direction for our country’s aviation industry. Obviously, this has a positive direct impact on our tourism sector. Zimbabwe is among the 24 destinations that Eurowings Discover will fly to this year and Victoria Falls will be its fifth destination in Africa after Mombasa in Kenya, Windhoek in Namibia, Zanzibar in Tanzania, and Mauritius. Currently, we have Air Zimbabwe, Fastjet, SAA, Airlink, BA Comair, Ethiopian, Kenya Airways, Malawian, LAM, RwandAir, Air Tanzania, Emirates, Qatar, MackAir. We also have Martin Air as the cargo airline to make them 15. From the 30th of March, we now have 16 as Eurowings Discover launched its flights
EN: More international airlines are targeting the Zimbabwe route this year, what does this mean for ACZ and the country at large?
TG: Undoubtedly, Zimbabwe is slowly becoming a premium destination again. We have once again become an attractive destination. This is a milestone that we (ACZ) are not taking lightly. We are focusing on making Zimbabwe more accessible to enable tourism growth. The European market is still keen on Zimbabwe as a destination and the launch of Eurowings Discover into Victoria Falls from Frankfurt via Windhoek is a key aspect of having the European market access Zimbabwe via the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area gateway.
EN: The RG Mugabe International Airport upgrade and refurbishments started in 2018 and it is scheduled to be completed by next year. What has the contractor, Jiangsu done so far?
TG: The upgrade work for RG Mugabe International airport, which is funded by the ChinaExim Bank, was temporarily halted due to the Covid-19 outbreak. However, the target for the completion of the project is still 2023. On the project, we are about 65 percent to completion. The new arrival and departure wings are scheduled for completion and opening in the 4th quarter of this year. The project is set for completion in mid2023. The upgrade works can be divided into two distinct categories — landside and airside. On the landside for the airport development project, the scope of work includes expansion and refurbishment of the International Terminal Building (ITB), refurbishment of the Domestic Terminal Building (DTB) and construction of a new VVIP pavilion, rehabilitation of car parks and access roads and supply of various service equipment. So far, the foundation and piling work for the ITB is complete. All ground-bearing slabs have been completed, and the suspended beams and slabs at the arrivals side have also been completed. To date, work done is estimated at 51 percent for overall landside works. Ongoing works on the landside category include the arrival wing extension, which is almost done. However, there still is a bit of work on skimming, tiling, ceiling, and mechanical and electrical works. On the departure wing extension, roof installation is almost complete. Cladding of roof eaves, installation of curtain wall frames as well as installation of glass panel holding fittings is ongoing, brickwork, as well as mechanical and electrical first fix installations, are still ongoing.
EN: As for the airside, what has the contractor done?
TG: On the airside, completed works include excavation, subbase, stone base, lean concrete layer and drainage works for New Bay 7 apron. Excavation, subbase, stone base, and lean concrete layer works for New Bay 8 apron have also been completed. The laying of asphalt on the runway carriageway and shoulders has been completed as well. Installation of runway centreline lights and edge lights, taxiway lead-on lights on all link taxiways except taxiway golf, and all approach lights on the runway are complete. Overall progress on all works now stands at 31 percent with construction at 78 percent. Overall progress on the runway, taxiways as well as the installation of equipment under the subcontractor now stands at 56 percent. Overall progress on the construction of water, stormwater and sewer reticulation system now stands at 25 percent.
EN: Are you happy in terms of the quality of the project and the progress being made?
TG: We are happy with the quality of the work. Having worked with Jiangsu International in Victoria Falls and now the RG Mugabe International Airport, we have been working very well and more as a team. The beauty about the way we are implementing our project is that while the contractor is Chinese, all the consulting engineers and other consultants on the project are locals.
So am talking here about the local structural engineers, quantity surveyors and even the architects themselves. All these skilled human resources are locals. So it is very easy for us to then work with the contractor to ensure that we deliver the quality that is expected of a project of this nature.
For the project, Jiangsu has the Chinese manpower of 150 operational helpers who are at the management level of the project.
EN: What impact has the pandemic had on the project? What mitigating measures if any have the Contractor put in place to ensure progress?
TG: Covid 19 has slowed down the implementation of the project. There was a time when the lockdown was introduced, we had to suspend work. This caused some delays in the civil works. At the same time the contractor, prior to Covid 19 had accommodation of employees on-site, because of Covid 19, there was a need to maintain physical distancing. It meant that on resumption of works the contractor is currently far less the number of employees than he would have wanted. But we are happy, we all had to adjust and make do with what we have. Yes, the project is progressing, but at a less pace than what we would have wanted if Covid 19 had not happened.
EN: Is it easy working with the Contractor – Jiangsu?
TG: Jiangsu International is very professional and with an amazing work ethic. Ever since our first engagement, we have worked very well with each other and have always met our deadlines.
EN: What has been done by the Contractor in terms of social responsibility?
TG: We are working with Jiangsu to identify certain projects that we then need to improve the livelihood of the people.
For instance, where the contractor was extracting the gravel for this project, the contract compacted the gravel roads in that area in part of area as part of the corporate social responsibility.
As the expansion work continues, we will be identifying more roads that need to be compacted and other areas that need to be sorted out with the areas that we operate in, (donated thermal imaging system and community soccer field/ pro bono maintenance work on pipeline and runway/ assisted the military academy with a road and a sentry box / free boarding for local employees during the pandemic and allocate groceries monthly that include cooking oil, bread, eggs, vegetables, meat, salt, washing powder, soap, and toilet paper etc. On top of that masks and sanitizers are also being provided and subsidies in USD rolled out so that our workers could dedicate themselves to their work with peace of mind. Assistance is also freely available when they encounter personal difficulties.
EN: We have heard that it’s the very same contractor that did the Victoria Falls Airport. How is the quality of that project as we speak and in terms of operation, how is it doing?
TG: We are very happy with the quality of work at Victoria Falls International Airport. The work that the contractor did speaks for itself. The airport is now an experience for travelers. The strong performance reported by hotels and airlines in Victoria Falls lately, driven largely by the refurbishment and expansion of the Victoria Falls International Airport, underlines the importance of world-class infrastructure to the country in the recovery of its tourism industry.
EN: On project completion, what are the repayment terms of the China Eximbank funding?
TG: We expect to increase the airport’s holding capacity to 6,7 million people per annum from two million. We are going to repay the loan through passenger movement and traffic operations. All over the world, when passengers want to travel, there is an airport tax. The airport tax usually covers the security portion, because security is fundamental at the airport. It also covers the administration as well as other bits of expenses. Within that cost of passenger tax, we will incorporate tax corresponding to a fraction to repay the expansion cost. The expansion project will be absorbed by the traveling public.
EN: We note that the Buffalo Range airport has also been refurbished, are there such plans for all other small airports?
TG: The US$2,5 million upgrade of Buffalo Range Airport in Chiredzi is now at an advanced stage. We are rehabilitating and upgrading the runway to accommodate bigger aircraft. This is because the airport is the gateway to the Lowveld, home to the wildlife-rich Gonarazhou National Park, which is part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. We are looking to upgrade small airports to facilitate domestic flights. We are looking at Beitbridge Airport, Charles Prince, Buffalo Range, and Mutare. We are working on a strategy to equip those places with better facilities, but we are limited financially. Falcon Air Safaris, a subsidiary of the District Development Fund, is now servicing Hwange Airport. The District Development Fund is also refurbishing the Chapoto (in Kanyemba) and Binga aerodromes to support the geographical spread of tourism. Kariba Airport is also being refurbished.