New airport nears completion

An aerial view of King Shaka International Airport, taken in May 2009.
An aerial view of King Shaka International
Airport, taken in May 2009.
(Image: Acsa)

South Africa’s newest airport, King Shaka International situated north of Durban at La Mercy, will be ready in time for the 2010 Fifa World Cup, according to a recent announcement from the Airports Company of South Africa (Acsa).

Acsa communications manager Colin Naidoo said that construction is progressing well, and he is confident the airport will open in time for the expected influx of football-mad fans in June 2010.

Currently 72% complete, the airport’s opening passenger capacity will be 8-million per year, compared to the 4.7-million presently handled by Durban International Airport. In terms of size, it is three times bigger than Durban International.

The R7.4-billion King Shaka International is the first brand new project undertaken by Acsa and the first greenfield airport in South Africa.

Completion of construction is expected by the end of 2009, after which Acsa will spend around four months testing the airport before its 2010 opening.

The project has provided jobs for around 12 000 people and once finished, 8 000 people will take up permanent employment at the airport. This is 3 000 more than the current staff complement of Durban International.

Future capacity is not a problem either. Durban International is expected to reach its limit by 2015, whereas King Shaka has been designed to expand in stages, up to a projected maximum of 45-million passengers by 2060.

Acsa, with the help of local and international experts, has reportedly already developed a special transfer programme for the relocation of Durban International operations to King Shaka.

Economic growth

The airport is part of the massive Dube Tradeport development under construction on 2 060ha about 35km north of Durban, close to the N2 freeway. This is a cutting-edge complex which includes King Shaka International, a trade zone and an IT platform.

The tradeport will inject new economic growth into the region and offer up to 270 000 new jobs directly and indirectly.

Advanced facilities

King Shaka’s runway is 3.7km in length, long enough to accommodate the world’s biggest passenger craft, the Airbus A380 and its closest rival, the Boeing B747. Expansion to 4km if necessary is possible. The 400 000m2 of runways alone are the equivalent of 100 football fields.

Plans for a second expansion phase, to be undertaken around 2035, include a parallel runway running along the opposite side of the terminal buildings. The third phase will see the airport reach its maximum capacity in 2060.

With parking for 6 500 cars, 4 300 more than Durban International, the new addition to the group of South African airports will signal a long-overdue revival of the region.

Regional growth

Durban is Africa’s busiest port and KwaZulu-Natal is the second fastest growing province in industrial and commercial terms, contributing about 17% to GDP. The province has not kept pace with the country’s commercial hub Gauteng, and this lack of progress is partly due to the inferior airport facilities.

Almost 50 000 tons of manufactured goods have to be trucked up to Johannesburg every year to be exported by air. As a result, many companies have relocated to Gauteng to cut down on transport costs. It is hoped that they will return once the airport and trade zone are complete.

Besides the arrivals and departure terminals, with 16 passenger boarding bridges, and cutting-edge cargo terminal, the Dube Tradeport will also feature hotels, a conference centre, entertainment area and retail space.

An agricultural zone will allow for the cultivation of produce for export, and its proximity to the airport will ensure that time-sensitive crops are shipped out while still as fresh as possible. Potential tenants include local farmers, cooperatives and international horticultural companies.

Super-jumbo craft

In a related story, Air France announced in August 2009 that it plans to bring its Airbus A380 to South Africa. The Roissy-en-France-based airline currently has one A380 in its stable, with another 12 on order. The lone A380 is due to start on the ParisNew York route later in the year.

Air France’s plans will make it the first airline to allocate one of its giant craft to a South African route. Although no actual date has been announced, it is understood that the craft will come into service at the beginning of 2010.

According to Air France’s Ralf Karsenbarg, the main reason for this decision is the optimism that Air France feels about future developments in South Africa. The upcoming 2010 Fifa World Cup was an important factor, said Karsenbarg, and also the fact that South Africa is actively promoted as a desirable destination both at home and abroad.

The first transatlantic Air France A380 flight takes place on 20 November. To celebrate the occasion the airline is to conduct an online auction of 380 seats on each of its two inaugural flights – outbound and inbound. All proceeds will go to three Air France Foundation projects for children in distress. The auction will take place in October 2009.

The beneficiaries are the Marseille-based Association Arts et Développement which presents street art workshops to city children; the Association Plan France in New Delhi, which improves living conditions for child workers; and the Gauteng-based François-Xavier Bagnoud Association, an afterschool programme for Aids orphans.