GOVERNMENT has signed Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASA) with the Qatar and Turkish government which will result in the latter's airlines flying into Harare. A BASA is an agreement which two nations sign to allow international commercial air transport services between their territories.
This was revealed by Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Walter Mzembi during a tourism stakeholders meeting held recently where he castigated Government for its slow response to signing such agreements which are very critical to the tourism sector. The BASA with Qatar had been on the table for the past seven years despite the fact that Qatar Airways was among several airlines that had expressed a strong interest in flying to Zimbabwe.
Qatar Airways is seeking to link Zimbabwe to destinations in the Far and Middle East, Indian sub-continent, Europe and Australasia via the airline's hub in Doha. Zimbabwe Tourism Authority chief executive Mr Karikoga Kaseke said while a BASA was critical in the establishment of air service between two countries; it was not the only option. He said that countries could also go the route of a Memorandum of Understanding while the BASA is being concluded. "The alternative to a BASA is an MOU which can be drawn up and signed within a week or two while waiting for the BASA which takes longer to conclude but obviously not seven years, that is too long," he said.
This is not the first time that the Government has delayed in signing a BASA, it also took time to sign one with the United Arab Emirates to enable Emirates airlines to fly into the country. Emirates only managed to start operating between Harare and Dubai in February 2012 several years after it had expressed interest to establish service between the two cities. Apart from Emirates, Zimbabwe has welcomed the return of KLM, which last flew into Harare in 1999, Air Namibia, Egyptair, Linhas Aereas de Mocambique Airline.
Since 2009, Zimbabwe has been a major target of several airlines that are seeking to establish or re-establish air-links with Harare because of the centrality of Harare within the Southern African region and problems besetting the national airline, Air Zimbabwe which has prevented it from reclaiming it former routes. Air Zimbabwe resumed domestic flights in 2012 before introducing service on the Harare-Johannesburg route last year.
Several foreign airlines suspended flights into the country between 1998 and 2008 due to the economic challenges prevailing in the country at the time. Among them were Austrian Airlines, Swiss Air, Air India, Air France and TAP Air Portugal, Air Mauritius, Linhas Aereas de Mocambique Airline, Royal Swazi Airlines and Air Seychelles, Air Tanzania, Ghana Airways, Air Uganda and Air Cameroon.