Harare On The Horizon: Zimbabwe’s Aviation Network

Airports & Airlines
Ahmed El Dahan
min read
November 9, 2021

Found between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers, Zimbabwe, is a landlocked country located in Southern Africa, sharing borders with South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and Mozambique.

Since its independence in 1980, Zimbabwe has developed a moderate aviation network, with two airlines and 21 airports - three of which have international certification.


Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport

Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport

Formerly known as Salisbury Airport and then Harare International Airport, Robert Gabriel Mugabe International was built in 1956 15km south of the capital Harare.  It is the primary access point to Zimbabwe and serves as an important gateway to Southern Africa.

As the largest airport in Zimbabwe, it features a single 4,725m runway that is capable of accommodating for large-haul aircraft. Furthermore its international terminal building has an operational capacity of 2.5 million passengers per year whilst the domestic terminal is equipped to handle 500,000 flyers per annum.

Reaching its operational capacity, the Zimbabwean government has commissioned a new $153 million terminal set for completion by 2023. When finished the older terminal will be renovated and the two will be merged providing the ability to accommodate 6 million passengers per year.

After touring the site, Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa expressed his enthusiasm for the project, “As time has passed, we realized we needed something better, that has international appeal and facilities that you get elsewhere should also be available here. We are happy that this airport, after completion, will match any other airport in the world in terms of facilities and the design to attract airlines coming here, as well as our own people coming here to watch as the planes arrive and have a good time.”

The airport connects to around 25 destinations with airlines that frequent the airport including Qatar Airways, RwandAir, British Airways, Proflight Zambia and Emirates.

Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport

Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport

Found 20km outside the city of Bulawayo in Mid-Western Zimbabwe, Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo International Airport takes its name after the late Vice President Dr Joshua Nkomo - leader and founder of the Zimbabwe African People's Union.

Although it has international certification, the airport sees predominantly domestic and regional traffic linked to destinations that include Johannesburg - O.R. Tambo, Robert Gabriel Mugabe International and Victoria Falls. It gives visitors access to the tourist attractions of Khami Ruins and the Matobo Hills.

The airport features two asphalt runways measuring 2,548m and 1,326m respectively and was given a new terminal in 2013. Costing $30 million the upgraded facility has capacity to handle 1.5 million passengers annually along with being given modern airport facilities and an improved commercial zone. Later in 2019 the airport received a further $13 million allocated to a fire station and new control tower.

Victoria Falls International Airport

One of the main Zimbabwean airports, Victoria Falls International is situated 18km from Victoria Falls city and caters significantly to the country’s tourism industry.

It features two terminal buildings, the newer designated to international traffic whilst the old serves domestic destinations. Along with its single 4000m asphalt runway, the airport is well equipped with modern aircraft stands, check-in desks, gates and baggage claim belts. Furthermore it hosts a VIP lounge and offers visitors restaurants, bars and a duty-free and retail space. Away from passengers, the airport also includes cargo terminals.


Air Zimbabwe

Air Zimbabwe

Based in Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, the flag carrier Air Zimbabwe was founded by the government of Rhodesia in 1967 as the Air Rhodesia Corporation. It remained so until Zimbabwean independence in 1980, when the newly formed government took over its operations and adopted its current name - Air Zimbabwe. Initial operations were performed using 707 aircraft leased from South African Airways, until the airline purchased three 707-320Bs from Lufthansa.

At its peak performance, the airline served over 30 domestic and international destinations in African, European and Asian regions that included Beijing, Larnaca, Frankfurt, Singapore and Durban. Unfortunately, due to political unrest and economic hardship in the country along with international pressure, it currently performs limited operations to five destinations namely - Robert Gabriel Mugabe, Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo, Victoria Falls along with Julius Nyerere and O.R. Tambo. Currently the airline flies 9 aircraft that include A320-200, 737-200Adv, 767-200, 777-200 airplanes along with Embraer 145 and Xian MA60 turboprops.

Fastjet Zimbabwe

With a fleet of 3 ERJ 145 aircraft, Fastjet Zimbabwe received its Air Operator’s Certificate from the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe in October of 2015 taking base at Harare International airport and Victoria Falls.
It provided domestic flights between Zimbabwe’s three main airports until January 2016 when daily flights to Johannesburg were added to its destinations.
Fastjet Zimbabwe is the country’s sole low-cost flyer and is part of the British-South African fastjet group that also has sister airlines in Tanzania and Mozambique with future plans to provide domestic flights in South Africa.

Growing Pains

Whilst Zimbabwe possesses a decent airport infrastructure and moderate airline capabilities; the country is underachieving in the aviation sphere due to political and economic factors that were only augmented by the Covid-19 pandemic. As the current global health crisis comes to an end and Robert Gabriel Mugabe International completes its notable expansions,  there is hope that Zimbabwe can make a full recovery and return to the aviation performance it maintained in the past.

Ahmed El Dahan
Aviation Journalist
A seasoned writer, Ahmed El Dahan was trained in Journalism and Mass Communication in the American University in Cairo. He then moved on to refine his writing skills working in various publications covering such topics as tourism, art exhibitions, music along with being a food critic. Relocating to Paris in 2015, he has an ever growing curiosity for the aviation industry. Away from the page, Dahan is an active professional saxophonist.

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