Portnet delaying plans for a dig-out port on what was previously a major international airport and currently still home to a single SA Air Force (SAAF) flying squadron has eased pressure on air force management to relocate the helicopter unit.
In 2010 the then Durban International Airport, previously Louis Botha Airport, closed when the Airports Company of SA (ACSA) took over management and operations of the brand new King Shaka International Airport, north of the busy port city. This left AFB Durban with its flagship unit 15 Squadron as the lone flying occupants of the now disused base. Two years later an announcement was made by the SAAF to the effect that the squadron would relocate, probably to the new international airport.
Now Air Force Base (AFB) Durban on the northern side of the once busy airport is still home to 15 Squadron and support units, including 508 Squadron. The base is also used by the Durban branch of the SAAF Association from time to time for meetings.
15 is the only SAAF squadron based on South Africa’s east coast with its Charlie flight in Port Elizabeth at the base there which is part of Port Elizabeth airport, another ACSA operation.
Siphiwe Dlamini, head of communication for the Department of Defence, said in response to a defenceWeb enquiry the “department is currently busy with consultations with all stakeholders concerning the movement of 15 Squadron from Durban International Airport closer to King Shaka Airport”.
“The date for the movement cannot be confirmed as there are processes that still need to take place,” he added.
AFB Durban became operational in September 1958, working from prefabricated buildings on the northern side of the airport. Hangars were built and fitted with overhead cranes to accommodate engine removals and other major maintenance and overhaul tasks on firstly Super Frelons, Alouette IIIs and Pumas and now the Agusta A109 light utility and Oryx medium transport helicopters 15 Squadron operates.
According to a report in a Durban daily the dig-out port, scheduled to be built on the old airport site, is on hold and “deferred for a couple of years”. A KwaZulu-Natal South Coast weekly newspaper has it that the dig-out port is a no go until 2030. This was apparently confirmed to a ward councillor by Durban Ports manager Moshe Motlohi.