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Growth takes flight in Zambia

For several years now, it has widely been acknowledged that the country has been let down by an underdeveloped aviation industry. Lack of airport infrastructure, low human and cargo capacity, and a marked absence of a national airline are all factors holding Zambia back from achieving its potential as a tourism hub and exporting focal point for the Southern African region. However, all that seems to be about to change

One of the most eye-catching improvements that will put Zambia back on the map is the planned extension to the country’s main serving airport, the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport (KKIA). This expansion, due to be finished in 2019, has been designed so that when seen from above the new builds take the form of an eagle, the trademark symbol of Zambia, which also appears on the country’s flag.

Located 27km away from Lusaka, the KKIA is the largest airport in Zambia. The single 3,963m runway serves as the main entry and exit point for the country’s visitors, who numbered 1 million in 2014. The expansion project, which consists of the construction of a brand-new terminal, will increase the airport’s capacity to accommodate 6 million travelers. Designed by China Airports Corporation, the new terminal will have a more advanced international arrivals and departures area, as well as new aprons, taxiways, and a control tower, and is expected to cost USD360 million.

Meanwhile, in the Copperbelt region, the mining heartland of the country, the Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe International Airport (SMKIA) in Ndola is struggling to cope with the high level of traffic passing through the area. One of the fastest-growing international airports in Zambia, the SMKIA has no further room for extending runways. Because of this, there are plans in the pipeline to develop a new sister airport to serve the region. Works on what will become the Copperbelt International Airport began in August of 2016 and are expected to be completed by 2019.

At an estimated cost of USD397 million, the Copperbelt International Airport is meant to soar into the lead as the regional transport center for industry and tourism. With a 1 million-capacity international terminal building, three aero bridges, a large-scale hotel, a business complex, an air cargo terminal, and an airport fuel farm, the project is no small feat for the contractors, China’s AVIC International Holding Corporation Limited. The results are expected to have a large impact on the industrial activities at the nearby Chambishi Multi-Facility Economic Zone, where many of the country’s cobalt and copper mining companies are based, as well as tourist hotspots of Nsobe Game Reserve and the Chimfunshi Chimpanzee Orphanage. With the planned capacity for 1 million passengers, 8,000 tons of cargo, and 20,000 aircraft take offs and landings per year, it seems the Copperbelt International Airport has been designed with precisely this demand in mind.
Elsewhere, Zambia’s potential as a high-flyer has caused foreign parties to lend their support. At the end of 2016 the EU awarded Zambia a EUR5.6 million grant to improve regulatory frameworks in the aviation industry. It is hoped that this money will finance programs targeting improved air safety and security oversight systems, ensuring air traffic control conforms with international standards as stipulated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), with a final view to enable air carriers registered in Zambia to safely and legally operate in European airspace.

In conversation with TBY, the Minister of Transport, Hon. Brian Mushimba, pinpointed the necessity of developing aviation infrastructure to bolster business in industry and tourism, revealing the government’s plans to build airports in Kasama and Mansa. “We are making changes to policies and regulations and signing certain statutory instruments to unlock and streamline the sector,“ he said. With many of these projects planned to near completion before 2020, there are high hopes all round that Zambia’s aviation industry could really take off.

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