The SA Air Force (SAAF) Command Council has known for at least eight years that its only base in KwaZulu-Natal will have to be moved and to date has prepared a user requirement and created a multi-agency task team.
AFB Durban is still operating from the north side of what was Durban International Airport. The base is home to 15 Squadron, which flies Oryx and A109 helicopters, and 508 protection Squadron.
Being the only permanent rotary-wing squadron in the east coast province, 15 Squadron has a maritime and a mountain search and rescue capability and is also used by President Jacob Zuma for VIP transport between his Nkandla homestead and King Shaka International airport, which replaced Durban International Airport in May 2010.
15 Squadron has a C Flight, which operates out of AFB Port Elizabeth flying BK 117 helicopters.
Brigadier General Hilton Smith, who took over as SAAF Director: Corporate Staff Services at the beginning of this year, said the timeframe for moving AFB Durban was dependent on the project plan for the dig-out port planned for the site of the former Durban International Airport.
“An AFB Durban relocation task team, consisting of personnel from the SAAF, Chief of Logistics, the Department of Transport, Transnet and the national Department of Public Works was established to address all issues concerning the relocation of the base.
“Several relocation options are currently under investigation,” he said but would not disclose specific sites.
The military aviation grapevine has it that two possible sites have been identified at King Shaka for use by the SAAF but until such time as funding is made available 15 and 408 squadrons will continue to operate out of the remains of Durban International, now largely a parking lot for new vehicles coming out of the adjacent Toyota manufacturing operation. All runways and taxiways at what was Durban International are clearly marked with large white Xs, indicating they are unusable.
Among suggestions put forward for the new KZN base are Durban’s Virginia Airport, also facing an uncertain future; Richards Bay and Umtata in Eastern Cape. With its major component a helicopter unit, some military watchers have suggested the base could be relocated to either 5 SA Infantry Battalion at Ladysmith or 121 SA Infantry Battalion at Mtubatuba.