Swaziland: 'King's Airport Still Has No Licence'

Swaziland's new King Mswati III Airport is not fully licensed to operate, despite claims from the kingdom's civil aviation authority that it is.

The Regional Director of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Meshesha Belayneh, has told the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) in South Africa that Swaziland still needs to follow due process before the ICAO can issue a licence for the new airport.

OSISA published this information nearly two weeks after the airport, previously known as Sikhuphe, was officially opened by King Mswati on 7 March 2014.

Doubts were first expressed by the global news agency AFP that the airport was not fully licensed. Following this, Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA) Director General Solomon Dube was quoted by the Sunday Observer newspaper in Swaziland, 'The new airport is fully licensed.'

Dube told the newspaper, which is in effect owned by King Mswati, 'We could not have let the King open something that is illegal.'

Dube said all the necessary paperwork had been signed and endorsed. He added that ICAO Regional Director Belayneh was himself present at the official opening which, 'meant that everything was in order'.

Dube said the licensing of the facility meant it was ready for use by the public.

Even after opening the airport, which so far has cost an estimated E3 billion (US$300 million) to build, and was completed at least four years behind schedule, remains controversial.

No commercial planes have flown to the airport and no airline has formally announced that it intends to use the airport.

In an analysis of the airport's future, OSISA said there were still many serious questions about the sustainability of the airport, 'including when will it open for business, how will it lure additional airlines to use its services, how will it compete with the airports in Johannesburg and Maputo, and will it ever get close to its full capacity of 360,000 passengers each year - which is more than five times as many as currently used by the existing airport at Matsapha'.

King Mswati has repeatedly said he wants Swaziland to be a First World nation by 2022.

OSISA said, 'While the King's critics find the idea of transforming Swaziland into a developed state and economic powerhouse within eight years laughable, especially given the fact that almost two-thirds of the population still live below the poverty line, Mswati can now point to the (long overdue) airport as proof that the country is moving in the right direction - regardless of whether the airport ever attracts the desired traffic or justifies its vast costs.'

It went on, 'By finishing its construction, he has proved some of his detractors wrong since many people believed that it would never be finished.

'But here are many other criticism and questions to answer - and no sign that they will be at the moment. For now, the King Mswati III International Airport - as its name suggests - will continue to be viewed by most Swazis as the monarch's biggest vanity project rather than (as he clearly believes) his crowning glory.'

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