15 June 2013

Swaziland: Only 822 Passengers At King's Airport

Photo: Swazi Media Commentary
This picture is of King Mswati III'’s Sikhuphe International Airport.

Only 822 passengers per day on average are expected to use the new Sikhuphe Airport when it eventually opens, official figures reveal.

That is about the equivalent of two Jumbo Jets landing at the airport every 24 hours.

The airport, dubbed King Mswati III's 'vanity project' by critics, is at least three years behind schedule. It was originally intended to open in time for the FIFA World Cup held in 2010 in neighbouring South Africa.

Despite endless problems, including a claim last week that the structure of the airport was defected and large jet airlines would not be able to land, King Mswati's supporters continue to talk up the prospects of the airport.

So far, no airline has signed up to land at the airport. Despite this, the Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA) has projected 300,000 passengers will use the airport each year, raising E7 million (US$700,000) per year in service charges. Although SWACAA did not say so, this equates to 822 passengers on average per day.

Deris Hlophe, SWACAA's Air Transport Economist, revealed the figures to the Times of Swaziland. He also said aircraft parking fees at the airport could amount to E452,000 per year, with E137 being charged per aircraft.

The airport project, which has the personal support of King Mswati, sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, is being built in the wilderness of eastern Swaziland, at least 80km from major towns.

Swaziland at present has an airport at Matsapha, close to the main cities of Mbabane and Manzini, but it only manages to attract about 70,000 passengers a year.

No needs-analysis was made before work started on building the airport, 10 years ago and so far no strategic plan has been revealed on how the airport intends to operate and how it will recoup the estimated E2.36 billion it has cost so far.

As long ago as 2003, the International Monetary Fund said it should not be built because it would divert funds away from much needed projects to fight poverty in Swaziland. About seven in ten of King Mswati's 1.3 million subjects live in abject poverty, earning less than US$2 per day.

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