As Swaziland’s new Sikhuphe International Airport prepares to open later this year, authorities in Swaziland insist the airport will not compete with South Africa.
Last week the Swaziland Investment Promotion Authority’s director of foreign investment, Zizwe Vilane, said the country was looking to create an export zone around the new airport that would bring business to the region. He added that Swaziland would export agricultural products to the Persian Gulf region after signing an agreement with Kuwait.
This move would take away business from South Africa, Business Day reports, although Swaziland officials have denied this. Phiwayinkosi Ginindza, Swaziland Investment Promoation Authority CEO, said last week that the airport would not take away business from South Africa but would relieve congestion from South Africa’s airports.
Nevertheless, an agricultural trade port would be in direct competition against Durban’s Dube Tradeport, Business Day reports. The Dube Tradeport hosts Durban’s King Shaka International Airport and aims to become South Africa’s global trade gateway through the region’s combined sea and air infrastructure. Most of South Africa’s imports enter through the ports of Durban and Richards Bay.
Business Day reports that although Sikhupe International cannot compete with Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport, it would enter into a complementary relationship with it.
“The new airport will be the closest to the Kruger National Park and Mozambique. We are negotiating with airlines [to serve routes in the region],” Ginindza said. The airport is intended to serve as a tourism gateway to the Kruger park, Maputo, KwaZulu-Natal, Victoria Falls and Swaziland’s game parks.
Construction of Swaziland’s US$150 million airport began in 2003 as part of King Mswati III’s US$1 billion millennium project to enhance Swaziland’s position as a major tourist destination in the area. The Taiwanese government contributed US$22 million to the project.
Sikhuphe International will be the country’s only international airport. It will supplant the Matsapa Airport, which can only handle trans-Atlantic and inter-continental flights, and which mostly servers as a charter airport for small regional carriers like SA Airlink. At the moment, the Matsapha International Airport handles between 70 000 to 80 000 passengers annually, the Times of Swaziland reports.
Sikhuphe International will be able to handle 300 000 passengers every year. Its 64 000 square metre terminal has been designed to business class (class C) passenger accommodation specifications. Cargo handling capacity will amount to 5 000 tons per year. The airport will be able to handle Boeing 777-300, 747-400 or Airbus A340-600 size aircraft on its 3.6 km long runway.
The Sikhuphe International Airport will be managed by the recently established Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority, which has been mandated to regulate the industry, as well as handle issues of licensing.
The airport was due to be completed in March last year, but this has been repeatedly pushed back and is now scheduled for the middle of this year, although the end of the year is more realistic. Ginindza said earlier this month that the airport would be completed in four months, and was awaiting certification by the International Air Transport Association.
However, Prince Hlangusemphi, Minister of Economic Planning and Development, said he could not guarantee that the airport would be completed this year is it depends largely on the availability of funds, according to the Swazi Observer. Due to Swaziland’s financial crisis, funds for capital projects have been drying up, but the Swazi Observer says construction of the airport will not be affected. Last year the airport cost R706 million and is this year budgeted to need R469 million, according to Trade Mark Southern Africa. The airport could end up costing US$1 billion by the time it is completed.
Meanwhile, construction of the airport continues. Cooperchase, an air traffic control systems supplier, recently delivered and successfully performed site acceptance testing of its Airport Meteorological System and AFTN Communications System (AFGATE) at Sikhuphe Internatinoal. The Air Traffic Control (ATC) equipment was supplied by Thales ATM. In addition to meteorological equipment, it includes monopulse secondary radar, instrument landing systems and communications facilities, VHF/UHF radio systems, a fibre optic network and radio navigational aids.