THE runway at Harare International Airport, among the longest in Africa, faces being declared unsafe in three years if government fails to complete its rehabilitation while debris from the stalled works poses risks to aircraft, Parliament has heard.
Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) announced the rehabilitation of the runway in July 2011 which, on completion, will be five kilometres long.
The repairs were part of a major facelift for the airport and included the upgrading of information display systems along with surveillance and security systems but erratic funding from government has resulted in completion being delayed.
CAAZ general manager, David Chaota the parliamentary committee on transport and infrastructure development on Monday that in its current state, the runway had a life span of three years.
So far only repairs on 850 metres of the runway have been completed while work on 725 metres is underway, with the third phase to renovate 925 meters is yet to commence.
While the project cost was originally pegged at $5 million, Chaota told the parliamentary committee on transport and infrastructure development on Monday that $11 million was required to complete the repairs, warning that there were risks associated with the failure to complete the construction works.
About $5,5 million is needed urgently to complete ongoing works on the 725 metre stretch.
“….we have embarked on the rehabilitation of the runway because we are saying the runway from its fabric nature is gone,” Chaota said.
“When we started screaming it was five years but now it’s three years left. All conditions for closure (of the runway) may have been met by then.”
He added: “We consider it as a high risk project because that is our cash cow as a country and it also poses some safety risks in the operation of aircraft at Harare International Airport.
Where there are cracks we do the seals so that we minimize any debris on the operational runways.”
Chairman of the committee, Dextor Nduna (Zanu PF MP for Chegutu West) asked if the debris risk could include downing of an aircraft.
Chaota said such an occurrence was a ‘worst case scenario.’
“When we say it’s risky we are not saying it’s not safe to operate,” he said.
Chaota said after every flight there was runway inspection to ensure that no lights were damaged by debris, adding that the runway was safe to operate in its current state.
“We are doing what is operationally accepted. All our airlines inspect the (airport) to see its level of compliance to requirements and so far we have had no airlines that have declared our facilities unfit for operational use,” he said.
Nduna cited a case in 2013 when South African Airways refused to land at the airport during particular hours citing poor lighting, but Chaota said the airline had brought its inspections and were satisfied.
He said they were likely to secure a loan of $2 million from FBC Bank in the next three months for the project.
Warren Park MP, Elias Mudzuri (MDC-T) said a report should be taken to the transport ministry due to the high risk.
“I think you should take this report to the ministry because the dangers are quite high and anything can happen to one of those planes,” he said.
“You cannot wait for three years to close the runway, it’s not good enough.”