The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati III of Swaziland, is talking up the chances of the new airport that takes his name receiving a ‘prestigious accolade’ at the World Airport Awards.
The airport, formally known as Sikhuphe and now called King Mswati III (KMIII) International, opened in March 2014 but only received its first commercial flights the following October.
The only airline to use the airport has been the part-government-controlled Swaziland Airlink. No other airline has said it will use KMIII which was built in a wilderness about 70km from the main towns of Mbabane and Manzini.
Despite the inactivity of the airport, the Swazi Observer reported, ‘Given the world-class architectural design of King Mswati III International Airport, surely the country’s newest pride can now contend for a regional accolade in the annual World Airport Awards.’
It went on to say the awards were, ‘the most prestigious accolades for the airport industry, voted by customers in the largest, annual, global airport customer satisfaction survey.’
Only a handful of customers have used KMIII, but the awards are based on 12.85 million customer nominations and include 410 airports worldwide.
The newspaper said the awards were based on customer satisfaction across ‘39 key performance indicators’ for airport service.
The fact that KMIII has next to no passengers might not matter. In 2011 the airport was shortlisted for the African Airport of the Year Award – and it had not even been built. It was nominated for its ‘infrastructure development, adoption of modern airport technology, adherence to safety and security standards, new routes and human capital development as well as good service delivery’.
The prize organisers said the ‘coveted awards’ were ‘the highest industry honours of excellence conferred on airports’. Allegedly, the award was made after ‘a competitive screening process by a panel of global airport experts’.
Somehow they were able to give the ‘airport’ marks that included ‘innovative ways of marketing to airlines [and] evidence of relationship with airlines’, even though there were no airlines using the airport, because the airport did not exist.
In October 2013 a report from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said the 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 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,
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, ‘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’.
In 2003, the International Monetary Fund said the airport 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.
King Mswati rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
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