By Tino Pepukai
THE US$3 million refurbishment of the Buffalo Range Airport southeast of Zimbabwe is anticipated to boost the tourism industry in the country’s Lowveld.
Government, through the Civil Aviation Authority (CAAZ), in partnership with the private sector has renovated the facility to meet international standards.
It becomes the fourth international airport in the country after Robert Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo and Victoria Fall airports.
Following the refurbishment after years of neglect, Buffalo Range is now set to direct flights from around the world.
“We have given a face-lift to the terminal building and other facilities that needed attention. Time and weather had taken their toll on the airport,” said Tawanda Gusha, a senior official within CAAZ, responsible for airports.
Prior to the rebuilding of the terminal and runway, the airport used to handle an average of about 80 light aircraft a month and is now able to accommodate big aircraft such as the Boeing 737-700.
The move will boost the tourism industry in the country’s Lowveld.
The major tourist attractions in the region include the Save Valley Conservancy, Malilangwe Conservancy and the giant Gonarezhou National Park, which is part of Great Limpopo Trans-frontier Park.
The transfrontier park is a major tourism attraction project in Southern Africa.
It involves the unification of the Gonarezhou National Park, Great Limpopo Park in Mozambique and the Kruger National Park in South Africa.
Malilangwe Trust is involved in conserving Zimbabwe’s rhinoceros endangered species.
Entrepreneurs hailed the refurbishment.
“We welcome this move because it means the Lowveld will develop economically,” said Nobel Mushonga a Chiredzi businessman.
Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister, Joel Biggie Matiza, said the country’s airports needed a major facelift.
He said despite the current refurbishment of the Buffalo Range airport more needs to be done since the government is looking at $100 million (R1.42 billion) to entirely upgrade the facility.
In total, $300 million (about R4.25 billion) is required to refurbish the country’s eight airports.
“We have to move with time and allow people to fly instead of driving hence the need to upgrade our airports,” Matiza said.
Buffalo Range airport was developed from an airstrip used by a local family, the Styles.
The family donated land for the development of the airport which was commissioned in 1965.
Tourism in the Lowveld had suffered a major setback due to lack of a proper international airport and the invasion of tourist attraction centres by landless villagers.
Zimbabwean authorities have since moved in to avoid invasions of Save Valley Conservancy, Gonarezhou and Bubiana Conservancy.
Per government policy, all tourist attraction centres should be spared from occupation.