13 March 2013

Swaziland: Sikhuphe Deals With Bogus Airlines

The Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA) has claimed that five airlines have signed deals to use Sikhuphe International Airport when it eventually opens - but two of the airlines named do not exist.

SWACCA, aided by the Times of Swaziland newspaper, have been talking-up the potential for success of the airport, dubbed King Mswati III's 'vanity project'.

The airport, which has been steeped in controversy since construction was first mooted 10 years ago, remains uncompleted. King Mswati confidently announced it would open in 2010 and various other completion dates have been given since.

No non-Swazi airline has announced that it will use Sikhuphe when it does eventually open.

Now, the Times reports that five airlines have signed Bilateral Air Service Agreements with SWACAA. But, two of those it names - Abu Dhabi Airways and Turkey Airways - do not exist.

The Times reported that Botswana Airways was the latest airline to join 'the bandwagon' and say it will use Sikhuphe.

Sabelo Dlamini, SWACAA's Marketing and Corporate Affairs Director, is quoted saying four airlines had confirmed that they would connect through the airport which is expected to be operational before the end of the year.

The Times also quoted 'an official from SWACAA' saying the airport might be completed next month (April 2013). There would then be three months' of testing before the airport received a licence to operate from the International Civil Aviation Authority.

The building of Sikhuphe has been controversial because there is no obvious need for it. Swaziland already has an underused airport at Matsapha and no needs-analysis was ever completed to demonstrate why another airport should be built.

Most of the impetus for the building of the airport has come from King Mswati, who is sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, and is keen to show that his kingdom is on its way to becoming a 'first world' nation.

Estimates for the total cost of Sikhuphe - including the airport itself, roads that need to be built to reach it, and other expenditure associated with it, have reached US$1 billion.

In the national budget last month, Finance Minister Majozi Sithole announced an extra E220 million (US$73 million) is to be spent in the coming year on Sikhuphe.

Meanwhile, only E125 million is to be spent on free primary education in Swaziland.

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