15 Squadron of the SA Air Force (SAAF) and its Agusta A109 and Oryx medium transport helicopters will remain the sole aviation occupants of the former Durban International Airport for at least the next five years.
The lone air force squadron in KwaZulu-Natal has been on the northern side of what was Louis Botha Airport since 1956. Then a name change saw it become Durban International. This was discarded when commercial and other aviation operations moved north of the port city to King Shaka International Airport, built as a government infrastructure project in line with South Africa hosting the FIFA Soccer World Cup in 2010.
The latest update on moving to King Shaka came from the SANDF Directorate: Corporate Communication (DCC) via Brigadier General Mafi Mgobozi after a defenceWeb enquiry to the SAAF, as the service responsible for air bases, squadrons and support operations they house, was passed to national defence force communicators.
The official word has it: “The SAAF has suspended the 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”.
Last December the same DCC informed this publication the base was expected to take occupancy of new premises at King Shaka (ICAO code FALE) 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 then 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”.
Those currently posted at the base on the northern side of the now disused airport are in no danger of being overtaken by developments at Durban port. Development of a dig-out harbour to expand the port of Durban was originally cited as one reason for the new airport. This now appears to be on some sort of permanent hold as a master plan to expand the east coast port, announced by Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan this week, makes no mention of this specific development.
The only permanent structures at AFB Durban are hangars and associated buildings along with accommodation and mess facilities. The base’s prefabricated admin/headquarters building was “erected as a temporary measure 36 years ago in 1985 because the base is moving to La Mercy airport (now King Shaka),” a retired SAAF officer told defenceWeb.