A SWACCA advertisement appearing in the Times of Swaziland on Tuesday (22 January 2014) said that Sikhuphe would be able to accommodate ‘fully laden Jumbo Jets and other large aircraft’. Among the aircraft listed were the Boeing 747, the Boeing 777 and the Airbus 340.
The same advert said, ‘The 7,000 sq m passenger terminal can handle and process about 300 passengers per hour.’
What it did not say was that aircraft such as the Boeing 747 and 777 could have at least 400 and more than 550 passengers when fully loaded. This means it could take at least two hours to load and offload passengers on a single flight. If two aircraft landed in a single hour it would be nearly impossible to deal with the passenger numbers.
The figures add further weight to criticism that Sikhuphe International Airport, which is costing an estimated E3 billion (US$300 million) to build in a wilderness about 80km from the Swazi capital, Mbabane, is not viable.
No international airline has announced it has agreed to use Sikhuphe, however, the advertisement said, ‘Two airlines have confirmed operations at Sikhuphe.’ It did not name them, but did say there would be flights to Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town in South Africa and to Maputo in Mozambique.
Sikhuphe has been under construction for at least 10 years. The date for the airport’s opening in 2010 was missed and has been put back a number of times since. In November 2013, SWACAA said the airport was now completed and operational, but no flights have been in or out since.
This month, Prince Hlangusemphi, Minister of Economic Planning and Development admitted that no taxiway had been built to allow aircraft to move around the airport after landing.
He said the taxiway would be completed ‘very soon’. Then, he said, the airport could be officially opened by King Mswati III.
As recently as October 2013 a report from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said Sikhuphe International Airport was widely perceived as a ‘vanity project’ because of its scale and opulence compared with the size and nature of the market it seeks to serve.
In June 2013 an engineer’s report was published by to the Mail and Guardian newspaper in South Africa saying the structure of the airport was defected and large jet airlines would not be able to land,
No independent study on the need for Sikhuphe Airport was ever undertaken and the main impetus behind its construction has been King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch. He believes the airport will lend credibility to his dream to make Swaziland a ‘First World’ nation by 2022.
In 2003, the International Monetary Fund said Sikhuphe 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.
Swaziland already has an airport at Matsapha, which carries an estimated 70,000 passengers a year.
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