The lone SA Air Force (SAAF) squadron in KwaZulu-Natal will remain the only aviation occupant of what was Durban International Airport for the foreseeable future.
Plans to move the base, home to 15 Squadron and its Agusta A109 light utility and Oryx medium transport helicopters, to King Shaka International Airport north of the port city are on hold. This is in line with what defenceWeb was told in August.
The official word from SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Directorate: Corporate Communication (DCC) then was “The SAAF suspended movement of AFB Durban, including 15 Squadron, to FALE or King Shaka International Airport (KSIA), for the next five years in order to provide space for other processes to unfold”.
Eight months earlier DCC told defenceWeb the Durban base of the SAAF would take occupancy of new premises at KSIA “around the end of 2025”. This was ascribed to delays resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant state of disaster imposed by government.
A start was made on the new base in 2019 with an environmental impact assessment and landscaping, understood by this publication to be earthworks associated with civil engineering and construction.
The official response at that time was: “The construction timeframe is five years, however, it will be moved to the right with a year due to the lost year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the time schedule, the new base is anticipated to be occupied around the end of 2025 to the beginning of 2026 provided no other external factors impede the construction progress”.
That planning and whatever preliminary work was started or done ahead of actual construction at the La Mercy site of the international airport are now out the window.
This was brought forcibly home by a visit to the base last week by SAAF Chief, Lieutenant General Wiseman Mbambo.
He met with a delegation from Transnet, the State-owned company (SOC) which now owns the property, previously housing KwaZulu-Natal’s lone international airport, from the Airports Company of SA (ACSA). The old airport was slated to become a new purpose-built dig-out port to extend capacity of Durban port.
According to a LinkedIn post by Major Mpho Mathebula, the 2021 decision to put on hold the base move made refurbishing it to operating standard a necessity.
“The old airport building is currently under the utilisation of ‘tenants’ who have repurposed the buildings while vegetation overgrowth and massive potholes severely compromise base personnel safety.
“The visit to the base and meeting with Transnet officials comes three months into the new CAF’s tenure and forms part of his diagnosis of the SAAF, its facilities, personnel and the impact each has on operations. In his address, Lieutenant General Mbambo assured base members renovation of the base is a top priority for him; firstly for the sake of safety and secondly for morale of those based there.”