Just as Swazi Airways closed without once flying, one newspaper in Swaziland is talking up the prospects for King Mswati III Airport.
The Times of Swaziland, the only independent newspaper in the kingdom, reported on Friday (3 August 2017) a ‘100 percent Swazi owned company’ called Ligwalagwala Airways had secured a lease of a 50-seater aircraft and intends to fly to Maputo in Mozambique.
The newspaper said the company director wanted to remain anonymous.
The whole company seems also to be anonymous as an Internet search for Ligwalagwala Airways failed to come up with a single hit.
King Mswati Airport – formerly known as Sikhuphe – was built in the wilderness in south-east Swaziland and has been described outside the kingdom as a ‘vanity project’ for King Mswati and a ‘white elephant’. The King rules as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch.
At present only one airline uses the airport for journeys to Johannesburg.
Last week it was officially declared that Swazi Airways the national airline of Swaziland that was created with fanfares and claims it would serve routes across Africa had closed down with all 23 employees retrenched.
There has also been constant misinformation about the prospect of airlines choosing to use the airport.
In October 2009 King Mswati claimed Etihad Airways from the Gulf State of Abu Dhabi was showing ‘deep interest’ in using the airport. Nothing has been heard since.
In May 2011 the Swazi Observer reported Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA) Marketing and Corporate Affairs Director Sabelo Dlamini saying, ‘We have established possible routes which we want to market to the operators. Some of the proposed routes from Sikhuphe are Durban, Cape Town, Lanseria Airport in Sandton, Harare and Mozambique.’ Nothing happened.
In June 2012 he told Swazi media that at least three airlines from different countries had ‘shown interest’ in using the airport, but he declined to name them. He remained optimistic about the prospects for the future and said SWACAA was talking to airlines in other countries as well. Nothing happened.
Then in February 2013 SWACAA Director General Solomon Dube told media in Swaziland, ‘We are talking to some including Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airline and various Gulf airlines.’ Nothing happened.
In March 2013 SWACAA claimed five airlines had signed deals to use the airport when it eventually opened, but an investigation by Swazi Media Commentary revealed that two of the airlines named did not exist. It also said Botswana Airways would use the airport, but it has not.
In October 2013 SWACAA claimed it had targeted small and medium business travellers to use the airport. It said low-cost airlines were interested in using it for business travellers who might want to fly to nearby countries ‘on a daily basis’.
In March 2016 Minister of Public Works and Transport Lindiwe Dlamini said Air Mauritius would fly from the airport.
In January 2016 the Swazi Observer reported Swazi Airways was ready to fly to Dubai, Cape Town, India and Durban.
KMIII Airport was built on the whim of King Mswati. No research was undertaken to determine the need for the airport.
Critics of the airport argued for years that there was no potential for the airport. Major airports already existed less than an hour’s flying time away in South Africa with connecting routes to Swaziland and there was no reason to suspect passengers would want to use KMIII airport as an alternative.
During the 11 years it took to build, the airport was called Sikhuphe, but the name was changed in honour of the King when it officially opened in March 2014.
The airport cost an estimated E2.5 billion (US$250 million) to build.
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.
Since it opened only one commercial passenger airline, Swaziland Airlink, which is part-owned by the Swazi Government, has used the airport. The airline was forced to move from the Matsapha Airport, even though an independent business analysis predicted the airline would go out of business as a result.
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