11 November 2013

Swaziland: New National Airline a Waste of Money

The Swaziland Government proposal to set up its own national airline to use at the kingdom's proposed Sikhuphe Airport is a waste of time and money.

It is estimated a single aircraft for the airline would cost E700 million (US$70 million). This compares to the E125 million budgeted for free primary school education in Swaziland this year.

Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA) says it needs to set up its own national airline to encourage international airlines to use the airport, which is being built 80km from the kingdom's capital, Mbabane.

Sikhuphe is an on-going project to build an 'international airport' in the wilderness in Swaziland. Since the idea for the airport was first raised by King Mswati, who rules as sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch, more than 10 years ago independent observers have called it a waste of resources.

In 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.

Meanwhile, the king has a lavish lifestyle, including a personal fortune, once estimated by Forbes magazine to be US$200 million, 13 palaces, a private jet and fleets of top-of-the range Mercedes and BMW cars.

Solomon Dube, Director of SWACAA was reported by local media saying Swaziland needed a national airline because every time he went abroad to market the new airport, 'reputable airlines' demanded that the kingdom should have a national airline which would ferry, on-transit passengers.

He said they wanted to buy a 90- to 100-seater jet that would cost around E700 million.

The Times Sunday, an independent newspaper in Swaziland, reported Dube saying big airliners agreed 'in principle' to bring passengers to Swaziland but wanted to know if these passengers would not be stuck in the kingdom.

'They all demand that we have a national airline that will transport the many passengers they would be transporting from all over the world to Southern Africa,' he said.

'They want us to distribute passengers from Europe to Sikhuphe Airport if they are travelling to places like Zimbabwe and Botswana for example,' he said.

'They tell us that they do not want their important passengers to be stranded in a Third World country and, therefore, if we want them to use our airport, we should also have a national airline which they would work with.'

Dube did not reveal how many aircraft would be needed to fulfil this role.

Dube and the Swazi Government have forgotten one important point. The only reason passengers would fly to Swaziland was because they kingdom was their final destination. If they wanted to go to some other country in southern Africa they would fly into airports in neighbouring South Africa and take already existing routes to their intended destination.

So, setting up a national airline for Swaziland would have no effect on that.

Dube has made a number of unsustainable statements in an attempt to 'talk-up' the airport and its usefulness.

Last month (October 2013) he claimed SWACAA had targeted small and medium business travellers to use the airport. He said low-cost airlines were interested in using Sikhuphe for business travellers who might want to fly to nearby countries 'on a daily basis'.

It was, of course, fanciful, since there is an existing airport at Matsapha and if there was such a market it would already be met.

Dube insisted last month that Sikhuphe would be operational by the end of October 2013, but there are no signs that it is. To date no international airline has announced it intends to use Sikhuphe when it eventually opens.

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