South African Airways (SAA) yesterday resumed its Harare to Johannesburg flights, a move expected to boost the local tourism industry after a year of inactivity and almost 18 months without a commercial flight.
The carrier last week resumed other regional routes to Lusaka and Maputo and will today relaunch flights to Accra and Kinshasa.
SAA has not flown any commercial flights since March 2020 and stopped all cargo and repatriation flights in September last year.
Many airlines across the region are coming up with different strategies to tackle the travel slump triggered by the moves to fight Covid-19, which has led to government bailouts, collapses and huge job cuts.
Speaking during the relaunch of its Zimbabwe route at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, South African Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mrs Thizwilondi Mabudafhasi said the resumption of the fights between Harare and Johannesburg was a clear illustration of the close cooperation between the two countries that will boost economic activity through tourism.
“It is with pleasure to be here today marking this milestone. We accept that Covid-19 has had tremendous effects to every economic activity. We are optimistic about the reopening of the tourism industry and we start recovering from the effects,” she said.
“The relationship between Zimbabwe and South Africa is one of the top priorities. I look up to strengthening our economic ties and this relaunch is a testimony to our cooperation.
“I believe South African Airways can fulfil an important role in our economies and creating the much needed employment and supporting our objectives. We have been patiently waiting for the resumption of flights and I encourage you to support their return.”
Deputy Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development Mike Madiro said Government will continue supporting the aviation industry as it is a key driver to national development.
“Allow me to express my gratitude to those who worked hard to make this relaunch a success.
“This will provide an opportunity to work with colleagues from their aviation and tourism industry.
“My ministry will continue to support aviation industry as it is an essential service component which drives economic, social and cultural development in facilitating tourism and trade,” he said.
He said aviation contributed to the gross domestic product and creates employment therefore contributing to the National Development Strategy 1.
SAA country manager Ms Winnie Muchanyuka said the pandemic grounded many airlines across the globe.
“SAA went into business rescue in 2019 after experiencing financial difficulties. As if that was on enough Covid-19 hit us at the beginning of 2020 which saw the grounding of most airlines that exacerbated SAA problems with no revenue leading to more difficulties. We want to thank the minds trying to get SAA back on track behind the scenes,” she said.
“After months of diligent work, we are delighted that SAA is resuming service and we look forward to welcoming on-board our loyal passengers and flying the South African flag.
“We continue to be a safe carrier and adhering to Covid-19 protocols.”
She said since the carrier came out of business rescue at the end of April 2021, it had been seized with planning for the relaunching of a restructured and fit-for-purpose airline that South Africans can again be proud of.
Tourism Business Council of Zimbabwe president Mr Wengai Nhau said availability of flights would encourage local residents to visit other parts of the region.
“To keep people in their jobs, boosting our trade and tourism, we have got to put planes in the air, and we have got to put tourists on the ground. This recommencement of flights is a step in the right direction towards boosting tourism which has for the last one year plus, been negatively affected by the pandemic,” he said.
“What we are looking for is an assurance that at a point in time, as the vaccine roll out is gathering momentum, further travel restrictions and border closures will be ruled out, hence the need for airlines to be operational.”