A grand plan by Swaziland to create a national airline has crashed after it became clear the tiny kingdom could not afford a single aircraft.
Even so, E20 million had been spent on leasing a 29-year-old Boeing 737-300 that never once flew commercially. In addition, an estimated E750,000 a month continues to be paid to airline staff who have no work to do.
Swazi Airline was intended to replace the already defunct Royal Swaziland National Airways. The plan to launch the new airline came after the opening of King Mswati III (KM3) Airport. The airport, built in the wilderness in southeast Swaziland about 70 km from a major city, was the brainchild of the King, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
The airport that was originally named Sikhuphe was dubbed a “white elephant” and “vanity project” by critics outside the kingdom. The cost of building the airport will never be known, but estimates are that it cost at least E300 million.
The airport officially opened in March 2014 and since then the only passenger-carrying airline to use it has been Swazi Airlink, which is part-owned by the Swazi Government. Despite repeated promises from the Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA) that there was interest from major international airlines to fly into KM3, none have down so.
In December 2015, the Sunday Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, and described by the Media Institute of Southern Africa in a review on media freedom in the kingdom, as a ‘pure propaganda machine for the royal family’ reported, that Swazi Airway would fly to 10 countries once it had become fully operational. The destinations were the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Ethiopia, Zambia, Rwanda, South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda and Botswana.
At the end of March 2017 it became clear that the kingdom could not afford the airline. Swazi Airlines decided to drop its lease on the Boeing, but was left with a E6 million debt to the company that leased it.
During a debate on the Swaziland budget senators decided to freeze an allocation of E16 million for the airline, amid accusations of bad management and corruption. Members of the House of Assembly called for a progress report on the airline after three months.
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