Reaching Higher

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

OPINION
11 May 2011

Even before take-off, King Shaka airport bore the brunt of heavy criticism. From the lobby group for the barn swallows, the staff of the old Durban airport site who now had to trek to the north of the city, passengers themselves who were upset by the inconvenience of change and others who simply did not think the airport would be financially feasible, the outcry was loud and incessant.

It did not help that the much-talked-about project had been long shelved, and for years it was unclear whether it would in fact get off the ground. But now, within a year of the official opening of the R7.8 billion airport, the transition has been smooth – despite the longer travelling distances for some passengers.

And credit for that must go to the team which made it happen, chief among them Rohan Persad and the rest of the Dube TradePort group, MEC for Economic Affairs and TourismMike Mabuyakhulu, and Premier Zweli Mkhize.

Emirates became the first international airline to start direct routes from Durban to Dubai, and the announcement of further direct routes to various airports in Africa as well as Gatwick Airport in London this week by Comair is a big feather in their cap. Let us hope it will be incentive enough for other airlines
to follow suit.

The gamble to move from south Durban to La Mercy and pursue the dream of an “aerotropolis” appears to be paying off too, with plans unveiled this week of a 220 000m2 Dube City development adjacent to the airport which will include hotels, office blocks, medical facilities, retail outlets and the like.

It is clear that much effort is being put into ensuring the airport complex does not become a white elephant – and the vision espoused by Persad,  Mabuyakhulu and Mkhize does not appear to be a pipe dream. And when it does come together, it will be a coup, not only for the fledgling King Shaka Airport, but for KwaZulu-Natal as a whole because it will put the province on the map and hopefully help shed its poor cousin status.