HARARE International Airport will next month welcome the longest passenger aircraft ever to touch down in the country when Emirates introduces a Boeing 777-300ER on its Dubai-Lusaka and Harare route.
The 354-seater Boeing 777-300ER, expected to touch down on February 1, will add 1 600 seats a week on the route, representing a capacity increase of more than 50 percent.
It replaces the 237-seat Airbus A330-200 that is currently servicing the route. The Boeing 777-300ER is the backbone of the Emirates fleet, with 82 in service and a further 69 on order.
The new plane has a three-class configuration, offering eight luxurious First Class suites, 42 seats in Business Class and generous space for 304 passengers in Economy Class.
It provides an additional 50 percent capacity, or 117 extra seats per flight, compared with the Airbus A330-200 aircraft.
The change of aircraft also provides more cargo space due to an increase in cargo-carrying capacity by about 22 percent to more than 18 000kg per flight.
The aircraft upgrade will coincide with celebrations to mark the first anniversary since the launch of the route on February 1, 2012. To date, more than 55 000 passengers have travelled with Emirates on the Dubai-Lusaka-Harare route while more than 5 000 tonnes of cargo have been transported.
Popular commodities being shipped include perishables such as vegetables and flowers, while imports include pharmaceuticals and mining equipment.
Emirates senior vice-president, commercial operations for Africa Mr Jean Luc Grillet said the introduction of the new aircraft was in response to increasing demand.
"Our Lusaka and Harare service has come of age and with demand continuing to increase, this is the right time for Emirates to be expanding its capacity," he said.
"With the introduction of this larger aircraft, we will offer almost 5 000 seats every week on the route between Dubai, Lusaka and Harare," he said.
Emirates' key destinations for Zambian and Zimbabwean travellers include Dubai, Guangzhou, Beijing, Hong Kong and Mumbai.
According to Emirates, passengers will be able to experience the airline's award-winning Ice in-flight entertainment system with a choice of over 1 400 channels on-demand as well as meals prepared by gourmet chefs.
"Emirates constantly strives to deliver its passengers with the very best service," said Mr Grillet.
"The Boeing 777-300ER aircraft forms the backbone of Emirates' fleet, and its introduction on the Lusaka and Harare route reflects our commitment to quality."
EK 713 departs Dubai every day at 9.25am, arriving in Lusaka at 2.50pm. The service departs Lusaka at 4.20pm, arriving in Harare at 5.20pm.
The return flight leaves Harare at 6.50pm, arriving Lusaka at 7.50pm. It departs Lusaka at 9.20pm and lands in Dubai at 6.50 am the next day.
Emirates' fleet is one of the youngest in the skies, with an average age of less than 80 months.
The airline continuously replaces old aircraft with newer ones and has frequently been the first to sign up for new developments in aviation design and technology.
The introduction of a bigger plane by Emirates comes at a time when most airlines flying into Zimbabwe are enjoying brisk business and are expanding their services.
In November 2011 South African Airways introduced a bigger plane, an Airbus 330, every Thursday on the Johannesburg-Harare route.
Mid-last year Ethiopian Airlines took delivery of its first Boeing 787-860 Dreamliner named "Africa First" and the giant aircraft touched down in Zimbabwe in August.
According to Ethiopian airlines, the aircraft would be used on its routes in Africa, including Zimbabwe.