VICTORIA FALLS, March 1 (The Source) – A South African Airways (SAA) Airbus A330-200 jetliner touched down at Victoria Falls International Airport Wednesday afternoon, becoming the first wide boarded aircraft to land in Zimbabwe’s prime resort town after the December completion of a $150 million expansion programme.
The expansion work stretched the airport’s runway to four kilometres, from about one and half kilometres, giving it capacity to handle long haul aircraft and trebling the airport’s annual passenger capacity to 1,5 million.
The facelift turned Victoria Falls into one of Africa’s best airports according to local officials, who said more flights this year.
Ethiopian Airlines will begin flying into Victoria Falls later this month, while Kenya Airways will in May launch a direct flight between Nairobi and Victoria Falls which will also link to Cape Town, South Africa.
Turkish Airlines has also indicated intentions to operate flights into the resort town. BA’s Comair also flies daily into the town from Johannesburg, South Africa.
SAA’s 222 seater aircraft touched down at 1220 hrs and was greeted with the traditional water cannon salute, before lifting off an hour later with 188 passengers, giving SAA country manager, Winnie Muchanyuka the confidence that the Victoria Falls/Johannesburg route would be viable.
She said Wednesday’s maiden flight could be the start of big things to come for the airline on the route, promising that should demand continues to rise, SAA was prepared to deploy the bigger A346 airliner.
Africa’s largest airline, which has flown daily to Victoria Falls from Johannesburg using a 150 seater plane, also flies daily into Harare from South Africa, as well as into Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second capital.
“Operating a wide board aircraft into Victoria Falls was only a dream three months ago,” said Muchanyuka.
“We are the first airline to partake the new facilities at Victoria Falls using a wide boarded aircraft. We saw the demand and the push on our seats. We could see that the numbers were increasing year by year. There is great potential in Victoria Falls. We see it through the numbers that are coming,” she said.
Givemore Chidzidzi, chief operating officer at the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority, said accessibility had been one of the handicaps affecting the local tourism industry. He said the arrival of bigger planes would improve tourist arrivals into the country.
“If we don’t address the issue of accessibility, we have a problem,” he said.