Interview: Zambia Airports MD Maggie Kaunda
Zambia Airports Corporation Limited has recently invested $1 billion into new airport facilities, including a new terminal (pictured) that has increased annual passenger capacity from 2 million to 6 million at Lusaka's Kenneth Kaunda International Airport. Maggie Kaunda, Zambia Airports' acting managing director, updates Routes on the progress being made in the country.
The new terminal is a significant investment—what impact do you hope it will have?
Zambia Airports was created in 1989 and for a very long time we've had infrastructure that we inherited, which was constructed just after independence in 1964. So you can imagine that our capacity was quite limited in as far as passenger numbers into the terminal buildings.
The government has pumped in more than $1 billion to ensure that the terminals, airports, radar and other air navigation equipment are procured or upgraded. We have increased capacity from 2 million to 6 million. We only had two boarding gates and now it's been increased to eight. The facility is modern and is aligned to infrastructure that we see in other international airports with amenities such as an expanded apron, a presidential pavilion, commercial activities and space for hotels and cargo terminals, a new fire station and a control tower.
We're really hoping to change the way that passengers perceive Zambia as a destination for different activities, including tourism, meetings and conferences. And we also believe that it will attract airlines, because we now have six bridges, which is contributing to the customer experience but also improving the turnaround time.
How much scope is there for tourism growth in Zambia?
I think there is a huge opportunity, and we play a major role because we are the first point of contact and the last point of contact for tourists. We are creating synergies with different institutions including Zambia tourism agency, hotels around the country, and conferencing and meetings facilities. We hope that all this activity will ultimately help us contribute to economic development in the country.
How do you aim to become a hub in the region, particularly with the African competition?
I know that we are competing with other airports on this front, but the beauty here is that the government of Zambia has actually taken this up as a program to set the country up as a regional hub. We are leveraging the fact that we have a good number of neighboring countries within the region, plus the distance between ourselves and most of the capitals in Africa is only a little over two hours.
The government has created a consultancy arrangement which will help us to realize our intention of becoming a regional hub, which will also factor in good connectivity and integration between aviation, rail and road transport.
Significant barriers exist to intra-African transport. How will you overcome these to create a hub?
It's an uphill battle, clearly. Africa could do more in terms of trading with one another. We have a huge market as Africa, but I don't think we have leveraged it enough. I know that on the goods trade side there is a challenge there, and on the services side as well, and yet as a continent I know we have a lot to offer.
I think that the coming into play of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will definitely improve intra-African trade and tourism. If we see ourselves as one big market, then we would be able then to create the relevant connections where we have one country trading with another as a united front to provide a service to the international traveler.
But we have a lot of work to do, in the sense that we need to develop strategies that will assist us. For instance, visa requirements may need to be relaxed within Africa, to give free movement of people across borders. As a country Zambia has ratified the Single African Air Transport Market and AfCFTA, however, we are yet to domesticate it. Other countries in Africa also have that challenge where they have ratified but are yet to domesticate.
So really the question is can we fully benefit from these agreements? If we have not yet domesticated, I think the answer is no. And there is a need for us to move quickly and home in on the relevant domestication processes so that we can then benefit from these agreements.
However, Zambia does have nine foreign airlines at the moment and most of these enjoy fifth freedom rights. We hope to grow the number of airlines that are coming into the country, but as we go forward we should create the environment to really break the barriers that currently exist for trade within Africa.
Where do you hope your route network could grow with this extra capacity?
Honestly, it would be everywhere. That would be our dream, to have a direct route from our hub route into London, Guangzhou, Amsterdam, Istanbul, and in Africa: Cape Town, Lubumbashi, Entebbe, Windhoek, Dar es Salaam... Some of these are routes previously existed but, over time—especially with us not having a domestic carrier—ended up closing.
As we strive to become a regional hub and to stimulate growth in passenger numbers, our intention is to see whether the load factors on current routes can increase but also that we can stimulate the opening up of new routes.
You have also created a new airport in the Copperbelt—how is that going so far?
I think it's going better than expected. It's a new greenfield airport with a 3-km runway and commercial facilities, and it's really beautiful.
We hope that it's going to create growth for passenger numbers but also cargo. The Copperbelt is really our center for mining activity, which is the mainstay for the Zambian economy, and we are hoping that this facility will help see us transport cargo both out of and into the country.
Because the new runway is large and wide it will give an opportunity for larger aircrafts carrying cargo to fly into the airport. But we have also seen some new interest from various passenger airlines to come into Ndola which previously was not there, and we would like to believe that the new infrastructure has something to do with it.
We recently welcomed a new route into Ndola from Dar es Salaam in the last quarter of 2021, and we anticipate that there will be further growth coming. I wouldn't say we have yet seen significant impact in the new airport but we are very excited and hopeful that within the next few months we will have a different narrative because we'll have seen some growth.