King Shaka International Airport: Built for the long haul

South Africa’s aerospace industry has enjoyed a period of growth in recent years, with the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) managing the country’s main airports. One of the undoubted jewels in the crown is Durban’s King Shaka International Airport (KSIA), opened in 2010 and forming part of the impressive Dube Tradeport development zone which is boosting the local economy.

KingShaka_1591  The latest initiative at the site is the plan to build a renewable energy development hub near the King Shaka International Airport that is aimed at creating more than 6,000 jobs in the region.

The hub, which is expected to be implemented in three phases, will see an investment of more than R2bn being ploughed into the area.

KSIA (located in the La Mercy district and therefore also known as La Mercy Airport), is situated approximately 35 kilometres north of Durban. It was opened in May 2010, just before the start of the 2010 Fifa World Cup (TM).

The new airport was built to help grow this corner of Kwa Zulu Natal on an international level. KSIA replaced the old Durban International Airport and was designed by Osmond Lange Architects and Planners at an estimated cost of approximately R6.8 billion.

President Jacob Zuma officially opened the airport and publicly stated that the new development should encourage new opportunities for growth in business and tourism:

At provincial and local government level, now is the time to encourage new investment in tourism products that are prized and attractive for foreign visitors,” he stated, adding that King Shaka International Airport was a missing piece of the puzzle to enable growth and development for KwaZulu-Natal and the country:

Durban was the only city that lacked the aviation infrastructure that was able to accommodate international flights,” Zuma said.

Zuma also thanked the 8,000 workers who built the facility, while the opening ceremony also saw the unveiling of a statute of King Shaka Zulu.

The weeks leading up to the official opening of the airport saw extensive tests carried out, including a special South African Airways (SAA) flight from O.R Tambo International Airport, which saw an Airbus A340-600, containing SAA and ACSA dignitaries, touch down at King Shaka International.

KingShaka_1910At the time, ACSA’s CEO, Monhla Hlahla stated: “Today’s test is yet another excellent opportunity for us to prove King Shaka International Airport’s state of readiness. The purpose was to test our airfield infrastructure such as instrument landing systems, communication with air traffic control, passenger loading bridges, aircraft fuelling systems, aircraft push back and start up operations. We are very pleased with the support we received from all our stakeholders in particular SAA.”

To even get to that stage, KSIA had been the subject of much controversy and argument, dating back to the 1970s. Undoubtedly, the concept was to develop a “Golden Triangle” between Cape Town International Airport, OR Tambo International Airport and KSIA that would serve domestic flights and include 7 airlines.

However, the journey to May 2010 proved a rather rocky road. Construction on the airport began as early as 1973 and two years later the earthworks and storm drainage system had been implemented. However economic slowdown had halted progress by 1982.

KingShaka_4829As international air travel intensified, the shortcomings of the existing Durban International Airport were plain for all to see and by the late 1990s, with South Africa in a different political climate, the decision was made to undertake studies, which ultimately underlined the flawed logic in persevering with the existing airport infrastructure.

In 2004, following a period of heated debate, national transport minister Jeff Radebe seized the initiative to jump-start the project, with the Illembe consortium (led by Group Five and Wilson Bayly Holmes-Ovcon) ultimately winning the tender for the new airport.

Having cleared environmental approvals, construction finally recommenced on KSIA on 24 August 2007.

The venture has proved to be a ground breaking cooperative project development that was done between the National Department of Transport, the Provincial Department of Economic Development, the government of Kwa-Zulu Natal, ACSA and the Dube Trade Port. It is also the first Greenfield airport to be built in the past 50 years in South Africa.

To emphasize the importance of KSIA in the context of the region and the country, it was officially the 9th busiest airport in the African continent in 2010 – even though it was only opened in May of that year!

By May of 2012 – two years after its launch, KSIA had handled in excess of 10 million passengers.

As we finish our second year of operations, it is clear King Shaka International Airport has become an economic driver for particularly the KwaZulu-Natal,” airport’s spokesperson Colin Naidoo commented. “We have successfully passed the 5 million passengers a year milestone and are experiencing growth in the region of 4 per cent per 12 month period of operations.”

KingShaka_5650Such was the growth in passenger traffic that the airport was in the process of increasing the amount of available parking space, to keep pace with demand.

Last year saw the fledgling airport added to the ACI (Airports Council International) roll of honour. It earned this accolade, along with 14 other airports internationally, for above-average service standards. The ACI named King Shaka International the third best airport in Africa during 2012.

Naidoo said the airport management was working closely with the provincial government, tourism and hospitality bodies to continue making Durban the destination of choice for leisure and business and to attract more flights, both domestic and international, fulfilling its intended legacy as a catalyst for growth.

Looking to the future, KSIA will continue to play a key role in the success of Dube Tradeport. Long term master plans published on the Dube Tradeport website show projected phases of development in 2035 and 2060; with the airport likely to have two parallel runways and the capacity to handle 45 million passengers each year by 2060.

King Shaka International Airport may have been a long-time in the making, but its positive effects are likely to be felt for much longer.