NO AIRLINES FOR AIRPORT YET
SIKHUPHE – Inaugurated amid much pomp and ceremony on Friday, the new King Mswati III International Airport will not immediately go into full operation.
The airport, formerly known as Sikhuphe, will be inactive because there is not yet any airline, whether locally or internationally owned, that has signed up to use the facility.
That, at least, was the position by yesterday.
The airport cost around E3 billion and took about 12 years to build.
It was licensed fully by Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACCA) with the assistance of over 20 officers from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
It has been designated the aviation code name ‘SHO’ by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
Solomon Dube, the Director of SWACAA, said his office was in contact with a number of airlines, trying to convince them to use the facility.
Dube said his job of marketing the airport was easy now because it had since been opened and was fully licensed.
In an interview, Dube said Swazi Airlink specifically asked not to operate from the airport for now.
“They love the infrastructure but they said it would be a challenge for them to immediately move to the new airport,” he said.
He said the problem that was pointed out by Swazi Airlink was that the company had to first notify its customers about the move.
Dube said this was a process that was elaborate and not a one-day event.
The director was not sure when Swazi Airlink would relocate to King Mswati III International Airport.
Teddy Mavuso, Swazi Airlink General Manager, said the date for the airline movement to King Mswati III International Airport was unknown.
He said there were still a number of pending logistics, which included certain agreements which had to be signed by the directors of the company and the airport authorities.
The new airport is located about 80 kilometres from Mbabane, the capital city and about 60 kilometres from the Matsapha, Swaziland’s economic hub.
In his speech on Friday, His Majesty the King said the airport would help attract tourism and foreign investment.
“This airport is not a tool to make a circus show but to advance the country’s development,” he said.
He said the airport, like the rest of the Millennium projects which include the Mavuso Trade Centre, were once labeled by parliamentarians as a waste of national resources.
He said the completed projects were proving the skeptics wrong every day.
“These facilities have exceeded their anticipated utilisation,” he said.
On the airport, the King, who was in a jovial mood, said a jungle in Malindza was transformed into one of the best development structures in Africa.
His Majesty said he happened to watch an international documentary where a commentator turned the new airport project into a mockery, saying it would never see the light of day.
He said a lot of Swazis were angered by the documentary but he was not because the airport was getting publicity.
The king said owing to the lengthy time for construction work at the airport, coupled with its remote location, detractors thought it would never see the light of day.
“The commentator told the world in a very sarcastic manner that the King Mswati III had decided to build an airport right in the middle of the jungle. The commentator even took pictures of cattle and cow dung, wondering what an international airport was doing in the wilderness,” he said.
The monarch said a lot of Swazi people were disturbed by this documentary such that they approached him to register their concerns and anger.
“I told them to rejoice because this was free marketing. Kutsi kunetinkhomo nebulongo nayi i- airport (whether there is cattle or cow dung here is our airport,” he said.
This was followed by a huge ululation from the audience, which whistled and danced after the king’s comment.
“Solo intfutfuko iyachubeka emahlatsini (the jungle is being transformed). We have ambassadors here who have come to witness the project that started in the jungle. This is now a great jungle. As I was coming to Sikhuphe we drove through a highway from the off-ramp. Who could have thought of a highway in the jungle?”
The king wished that the person who compiled the documentary had been at the airport on Friday so that he could tell the world that the jungle had been officially opened and was now looking for partners.
Swaziland’s air transport is currently serviced by Swazi Airlink, a joint venture between the Swazi Government and South African Airlink.
It normally undertakes a 45-minute trip to and from Johannesburg from Matsapha. Previously, government said it was looking for an airline which would operate under the banner of Royal Swazi National Airways (RSNA).
Government said the airline would fly to 10 countries - nine in Africa and one in Asia. It was reported that bilateral Air Service Agreements between government and the new destination countries have been signed.
Courtesy of these agreements, the RSNA airline, which used to operate two aircrafts (Fokker 100 and Fokker 28), will possibly fly to destinations such as the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Ethiopia, Zambia, Rwanda, South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda and Botswana among others.