Just over a year ago then Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) would take over the running of Mthatha Airport.
When Transport Minister Ben Martins visited the airport this week to inspect its newly upgraded runway and other facilities there wasn’t a military uniform in sight.
SANDF head of communications Siphiwe Dlamini said the non-involvement of the military was because “deliberations were held and the decision rescinded”.
This some 14 months after Sisulu, speaking prior to what was her final Defence budget vote in Parliament, indicated the military would take over the Eastern Cape airport for three years.
“Depending on how the SANDF feels about it, we might extend it further,” she said in Cape Town then.
The decision to involve the military in the day to day management and operation of the airport was apparently taken because the provincial government realised it had neither the capacity nor funding to run Mthatha Airport following the FIFA Soccer World Cup 2010. The Eastern Cape provincial government approached national government for assistance and it was reported Cabinet approved the SANDF becoming involved.
Sisulu admitted at the time the SANDF was “not too enthusiastic” about becoming involved.
Her feelings were confirmed by the “deliberations” Dlamini gave as the reason for the SANDF bailing out of a largely commercial airport management venture.
“The SANDF sees transport, including airports and their operation, as a national task,” he said.
The airport, which still has to undergo further refurbishment, now boasts a new runway that can handle larger aircraft as well as three upgraded hangars.
It is regularly used by the SA Air Force (SAAF) during its maritime patrol tasking as well as for transport and supplies to nearby military bases as well as ferrying medical personnel and equipment for deployment to former President Nelson Mandela’s Qunu home.
Last November a 35 Squadron C-47TP was involved in a landing accident at Mthatha. It bounced on landing, left the runway and end up in a ditch with a collapsed undercarriage and damaged propeller. It was written off and also usable spare parts salvaged.
In the same month a 41 Squadron Cessna 208 Caravan light transport had to undergo repairs to its nose undercarriage after another landing incident at Mthatha.
Picture: A C-47TP similar to the one written off after a landing accident at Mthatha Airport