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CHINA Exim Bank has deployed US$37,5 million to fund the rehabilitation and expansion of Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport (RGMIA), Finance minister Mthuli Ncube said last week.

In an update on the state of Zimbabwe’s major infrastructure redevelopment projects during a presentation of the mid-term fiscal policy review on Thursday, Ncube said the airport would be completed in 2023.

The funding is part of a US$153 million deal agreed with the Chinese lender over five years ago to modernise and expand Zimbabwe’s biggest airport.

This will give the airport capacity to handle bigger passenger and cargo volumes should the country ride out of the current currency turbulence.

It brings to US$300 million funding committed to Zimbabwe’s two biggest airports since 2016, when the Chinese helped Zimbabwe complete the US$150 million Victoria Falls International Airport expansion, which increased its capacity to 1,5 million from 500 000 passengers a year.

Passenger numbers at Zimbabwe’s airports plummeted to about 230 000 in 2018, from one million in 1996.

But following efforts to rebuild Zimbabwe’s soiled image, President Emmerson Mnangagwa projects strong recovery in the tourism industry, which underpins airport business.

Ncube said headway had been made in expanding Zimbabwe’s biggest airport, with runways 78% complete.

“To date, a total of US$37,3 million has been disbursed towards the RG Mugabe International Airport from the US$153 million China Exim Bank loan facility,” he said.

“Landside works are now at 35% completion with current works concentrated on the international and domestic terminal buildings as well as construction of the new VVIP pavilion.

“The runway is at 78% completion with laying of asphalt on the runway carriageway and shoulders completed while work on the aprons is in progress. The project is now rescheduled for completion in 2023,” he said.

As part of the airport upgrade programme, government has given the District Development Fund the mandate to rehabilitate and upgrade a string of airstrips across the country, most of them in proximity to regions earmarked as tourism hotspots.

These include Chapoto, Binga, Kanyemba, Tokwe Mukosi and Buffalo Range airstrips.

Ncube said following a reconstruction scheme, the cash-strapped Air Zimbabwe had resumed operations, with efficiencies set to be boosted by its remerger with the National Handling Services, which manages passenger and cargo at the airports.

“The scheme of reconstruction for Air Zimbabwe was successfully concluded in June 2021, allowing for the resumption of operations for the airline guided by the strategic six-year turn-around plan and the 2021 business revival plan,” the minister said.

“The effective implementation and execution of the airline’s turn around plans will ensure that it acquires the requisite equipment, expands its route network, invests in appropriate information communication technology systems and strengthens its competitiveness, through the strategic deployment of a lean and highly committed and professional workforce. Furthermore, the remerging of the National Handling Services with the national airline will ensure the in-house execution of airline services for effective cost management and self-sustainability,” the Treasury chief noted.

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