2 August 2007
The airport runway at Bhisho in the Eastern Cape will be closed for the next six weeks as the airport undergoes a R100-million upgrade, as the province seeks to maximise the facility’s economic potential.
The upgrade is being funded through the province’s Department of Roads and Transport, with all upgrades expected to be complete by March 2008.
The project as so far provided more than 100 jobs for people from surrounding villages, while more people will be needed as the project progresses, the department said in a statement this week.
“The project derives from the Blue Skyway Aviation Strategy, which was unveiled by the [provincial Transport Department] in 2006, in an effort to maximise the potential of the Bhisho and Mthatha airports and bring new life to the rural airstrips within the province,” the department explained.
The strategy aims to improve usage of the province’s airports, reduce government involvement in the operation of airports, and involve the private sector, especially small, medium and micro enterprises, through outsourcing services or as airport management.
The province has already convinced the South African Police Service Air Wing to relocate to the Bhisho Airport, while the Port Alfred-based 43 Air School is declared its intent to expand to the airport and has started assisting in re-commissioning refuelling facilities.
The first 14 students from the air school are expected to relocate to the airport within the next two months.
Air BP has also started refurbishing the fuel depot at own cost
A new R5-million fire tender was brought in from overseas, and firemen at the airport already completed a course to use the new vehicle. The main intention is to increase the emergency capacity of the airport and improve its grades from two to four, the department said.
The department said that the Bhisho Airport had been earmarked for international flights during the 2010 Fifa World Cup, with state-owned South African Airways and other airlines expressing their interest in using the airport.
At the same time, the national Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism has appointed consultants to conduct a feasibility study on the upgrade of the Mthatha Airport.
That feasibility study has been completed and forwarded to consulting engineers for final costing.
“We have purchased two large airport fire tenders for the Mthatha Airport and we will apply to upgrade our license with the South African Civil Aviation Authority from four to six, which will enable bigger aircraft to land there,” the Eastern Cape’s Department of Roads and Transport said.