14 July 2014

Swaziland: Swazis Not Convinced By King's Airport

The head of Swaziland's civil aviation authority has admitted that it has failed to convince the Swazi public that the new King Mswati III Airport has any use.

Solomon Dube, Director of the Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA), was reacting to news that the airport, formerly known as Sikhuphe, did not have office space to accommodate airlines using the airport nor did it have hangars for aircraft.

The airport was officially opened in March 2014 by King Mswati, but to date no airline has used it. Even King Mswati himself prefers to use the already existing Matsapha Airport when he flies the world in his private jet.

Dube told local media that a special block of offices could be built for airlines. He added, 'This may not be possible though because we still have to convince the taxpayer that the facility is useful and functional. We cannot do that when we do not have an airline operating from there.'

The airport which cost at least E3 billion (US$300 million) to construct has always been controversial. No needs analysis was undertaken before building began and the development has been dubbed a 'vanity project' for King Mswati.

No airline to date has publicly announced it will use the airport and there are doubts about whether the airport has a licence to operate.

In April 2014 it was revealed the Swazi public had been banned from visiting the new airport in case they wore out floor tiles in the passenger lounge.

In an analysis of the airport's future, the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (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.'

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