King Shaka likely to get R130m investment

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

SUREN NAIDOO
11 May 2011

Rohan Persad, the CEO of Dube TradePort, left, Michael Mabuyakhulu, KZN MEC for economic development and tourism, and Gidon Novick, joint CEO of Comair, celebrate a ground-breaking agreement for direct flights out of King Shaka International Airport to London, among others. Picture: Jacques Naude

King Shaka International Airport will get a business class lounge in its departures area and Dube TradePort could invest up to R130 million in an aircraft services facility at the airport as part of a landmark deal it has signed with JSE-listed airline operator Comair.

These are some of the other value-added auxiliary innovations around the deal with Comair, which would establish a direct air route out of the new airport to London’s Gatwick International and a network of Africa routes over the next few years.

After months of unsuccessful negotiations with national airline SAA, Dube TradePort approached Comair – South Africa’s largest private sector airline – to sell its vision for KwaZulu-Natal future’s “aero-tropolis”.

It was a relationship that began less than two months ago – and high-level negotiations have been under way right until Sunday, when the Comair deal was announced on the sidelines of the tourism indaba.

Michael Mabuyakhulu, KwaZulu-Natal’s economic development and tourism MEC, announced the deal with Comair joint CEO Gidon Novick and Dube TradePort CEO Rohan Persad.

Mabuyakhulu hinted at a new long-haul route at the Hotel Investment Conference Africa at Zimbali last week. But most industry people were expecting an announcement of Qatar Airlines’ entry into Durban with direct flights to its Middle Eastern hub of Doha.

The Mercury reported in March that Qatar had set up an office in Durban and was planning an entry, after a new air agreement between South Africa and Qatar.

The airline was tight-lipped about the plan and it is unclear where things stand now after Mabuyakhulu’s later announcement that Emirates would increase its flights to double daily between Durban and Dubai from October.

On the Comair agreement, Mabuyakhulu said that any airline wishing to come into King Shaka International was welcome.

However, the deal with Comair was a strategic partnership particularly aimed at building regional connectivity out of Durban with the rest of the continent.

“The first route in Africa that we want established is to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, which is a major hub up north.

“However, establishing the international route into the UK capital and business hub of London is the first priority.

“Both Dube TradePort and Comair are committed to make this happen, because a significant part of the travelling market from KZN head to the UK and Europe,” he said.

Mabuyakhulu described the agreement as a “massive early coup for King Shaka International and Dube TradePort”, which was just a year old.

Comair’s involvement is an ironic twist, which had taken both the airline and tourism industry by surprise, considering that it was the biggest critic of the development of the new R7.8 billion airport.

But Novick conceded that he was wrong, and King Shaka was already a “great success”, boasting double-digit passenger growth.

The airline operator is the biggest user of King Shaka International through its low-cost airline kulula.com and its British Airways domestic offering under a franchise agreement with the global airline giants.

Overspent

Novick said that he was, however, still of the view that too much money was spent by Airports Company SA (Acsa) on upgrading and building the airport before the World Cup.

“While the new Durban airport was targeted, it was not only about King Shaka.

“Acsa overspent, and for us airlines it means that we ultimately have to pay the bill with massive increases in fees,” he said.

Novick said he was very impressed with the bigger plans for the airport and the leadership and vision of Dube TradePort under Persad.

“We want to have at least two international routes established, one to London and to Nairobi over the next 12 months or so.

“It’s going to be a lot of hard work, but we are committed to working together with Persad and Dube TradePort’s aeronautical executive, Ahmed Bassa, to make it happen,” said Novick.