REGIONAL airline, Airlink, is expected to run its maiden Cape Town - Harare flight tomorrow, defying an intensifying health scare provoked by a second wave of the Covid-19 scourge in Zimbabwe and South Africa, where airlines have taken a fresh hit.
The airline, which already operates frequencies between Cape Town and Victoria Falls, said in December it would be adding Harare on its network from January 18, as it edges closer to its ambition to link most of Sadc's key destinations.
From its South African bases, Airlink already connects to several cities and resorts in southern Africa, including Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Maseru in Lesotho, Sikhuphe in Eswatini, Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, Gaborone, Maun and Kasane in Botswana and Windhoek and Walvis Bay in Namibia.
The airline also operates frequencies into Lusaka and Ndola in Zambia, Maputo, Beira, Pemba and Vilanculos in Mozambique and several South African destinations.
Managing and CEO, Rodger Foster last week said, Airlink would continue its operations in southern Africa to serve the region's economies.
"Health and safety are critical, as is economic continuity, for which regional air travel is the only viable alternative. Airlink will continue to provide travellers with safe, reliable and affordable connectivity between South Africa and destinations throughout southern Africa," said Foster.
The Zimbabwe Tourism Authority (ZTA) has said one of the biggest developments for the
US$2 billion industry this year would be Airlink's launch on the new route.
ZTA acting chief executive officer Givemore Chidzidzi said Airlink's flights would rekindle business and leisure travel between Zimbabwe and South Africa after many flights were grounded due to the global health crisis.
There is significant business travel between Cape Town, one of the region's richest cities, and Harare because many of South Africa's big corporations have units running in Zimbabwe.
But travellers had to connect via Johannesburg.
In addition, thousands of South Africans based in Cape Town troop to Zimbabwean destinations frequently, while international tourists seeking a quick scan of the region's best attractions from the South African city required direct flights into Harare.
Airlink said in December it would launch four weekly frequencies on the Cape Town-Harare route from January 18, 2021, the latest in a series of new and resumed routes across the carrier's southern African network.
"There has always been that desire to have the two cities connected," Chidzidzi said.
"Direct flights between cities like Cape Town and Harare, and Cape Town and Victoria Falls bring convenience. The traffic is there and I am sure their statistics are showing that. The major attractions in southern Africa are Cape Town and Victoria Falls. And it will be good for those tourists who only want to look at the highlights of the region," Chidzidzi said.
The airline said flights would connect the two cities on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.
But it will storm into a simmering crisis in Harare, where intercity travel has been banned to fight the pandemic.
Analysts see this as a limiting factor for executives and investors who arrive expecting to proceed to their businesses across the country.
Tourists intending to proceed from Harare to other destinations will also be affected by the travel ban that is expected to be reviewed at the end of this month.
"Airlink is excited to be launching this important new route, which will provide convenience to business and leisure travellers, saving them precious hours transferring via Johannesburg and also limiting their exposure to potential touch-points, which is a key consideration as we adjust our travelling habits during the Covid-19 pandemic," foster said in December.
"Airlink's unique service on the route will also support trade, commerce and tourism between the two cities and their respective markets at a time when it is desperately needed," he said.