Zimbabwe: CAAZ Markets Bulawayo's Joshua Nkomo Airport

THE Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (Caaz) has said it is working with the Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) to market multi-million dollar Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport on the outskirts of Bulawayo amid fears the airport could become a white elephant.

Bulawayo has suffered massive de-indutrialisation over the last decade or so. Speaking during his seventh inauguration as president in Harare after a July 31 general elections triumph, Mugabe said although industries had collapsed countywide, Bulawayo's industrial base had shrunk to "scrapyard levels".

The new terminal, which has state-of -art facilities, received its first flight on November 1 following a directive by President Robert Mugabe to start operating.

The facility, which has a capacity to handle 1,5 million passengers a year, has been under construction for more than a decade during which it missed several deadlines to commence operations.

For years the airport has been handling the arrival and departure of domestic and international flights under a makeshift aircraft hangar made of corrugated iron sheets transformed into a temporary terminal.

Last week Caaz chief executive officer David Chawota said they would not allow the airport to become a white elephant.

"Arrangements for keeping the airport busy are in place. We cannot have a situation where the airport is underutilised," said Chawota.

"We will go all out to ensure that this facility gets maximum exposure. We are working with the ZTA to sell the country to international visitors," said Chawota.

There are concerns that due to massive company closures countrywide as the economy continues to struggle the airport would be underutilised.

The airport can handle 400 passengers arriving and another 400 departing during peak hours.

There are about 15 contractors working on the project that includes the refurbishment of the international arrivals' hall, a variety of shops and a car park with a holding capacity of about 400 cars and a separate state pavilion.

In addition to a business lounge, the airport houses bars, banks and the Joshua Nkomo gallery.

In the lead-up to the November opening, some companies and service providers that had signed contracts to operate at the airport pulled out citing delays.

National hero Nkomo was the leader and founder of liberation movement, the Zimbabwe African People's Union (Zapu) in 1962 and became vice-president after the signing of the unity accord between President Robert Mugabe's Zanu PF and PF-Zapu in 1987, until his death in 1999.

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