King Shaka Airport opens, but what about the SAAF?

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The new R7.2 billion King Shaka International Airport (KSIA) opened on schedule on Saturday morning when South African Airways flight SA 528 to Johannesburg took off at 6.30am. SAA and other airlines moved from Durban International Airport (DIA) overnight in a move that cost the state airline alone R35 million.

The former DIA was closed to passenger airlines Friday night following the last flight from Johannesburg. Airlines based at Durban International moved their planes overnight to the new airport, where airport and airline staff had been getting ready for the switchover for several weeks. The move went off without hiccups by mid-morning, Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) reported.

Although DIA is now closed to scheduled air traffic, the SA Police Service Air Wing (SAPSAW) and the South African Air Force (SAAF) remain based there, both operating helicopters from there. But operating from their present facilities may become difficult when the airport is redeveloped. Current plans include a container terminal or an extension of Durban harbour. One casualty of these plans would be the current runway. The SAAF, in particular, need access to a runway to handle fixed wing aircraft.

The Sunday Times newspaper in March reported the SAAF would need such access for up to five more years. SAAF spokesman Lt Mpho Makhetha reportedly told the paper the air force could not move from the site, as it had no budget for the estimated R90 million project. “Although the base was allocated 17ha at the new airport site, the Department of Public Works hasn’t been allocated any money to build yet, so the decision for us to stay where we are for the next five years was made by our current air force board,” said Makhetha. “We’ve impressed upon ACSA [Airports Company SA, the DIA owner-operator] that whoever they sell it to must understand that we will still need access to the runway.”

Defence spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya added it was still not clear if the air force base would move.
“The chief of the air force has not made a final decision yet. If the base is going to move, it will not be any time soon,” said Mabaya. He made similar comments to defenceWeb this morning.

The new airport, which is located 35 km north of the Indian Ocean port city in KwaZulu-Natal province, has been built to to process up to 7.5 million passengers a year and accommodate new generation aircraft like the Airbus A-380.

King Shaka, which President Jacob Zuma will officially open May 8, is the first new airport in the past 50 years in South Africa. It is named after the Zulu chief Shaka, a famous warrior who ruled the powerful Zulu kingdom in the early 1800s, Reuters reported.

Airports Company SA (ACSA) says the airport will contribute to the creation of between 165 000 and 260 000 direct and indirect jobs in the next 20 years. The new airport will be able to process 7.5 million passengers and 50 000 tons of manufactured goods per year. The facility was first conceptualised in the 1970s, with construction beginning in 1973. By 1975, earthworks and a storm drainage system had been completed. However, the project was halted in 1982 due to the economic slowdown at the time.



The wikipedia says the project was revived in the late 1990s when “the limitations of Durban International Airport became apparent”. It says the old airport’s 2400m runway was deemed too short to allow large aircraft such as the Boeing 747 to operate intercontinental routes out of Durban; the resulting decrease in international air traffic caused Durban to become marginalised with respect to Johannesburg and Cape Town. Construction resumed resumed August 24, 2007.