The Sikhuphe Airport, dubbed King Mswati’s vanity project, will definitely be ready to open before the end of 2013, according to Solomon Dube, Director of the Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA).
But, he made it clear that it was up to King Mswati III to decide the opening date.
Dube’s assertion was accepted at face value by media in Swaziland, but observers of the continuing Sikhuphe debacle will be sceptical. A number of ‘opening dates’ have been announced and quietly forgotten in the past. King Mswati had himself confidently announced planes would be flying into Sikhuphe in time for the FIFA World Cup, held in neighbouring South Africa. That was in June 2010: but the tournament came and went, but Sikhuphe remained unfinished.
Bertram Stewart, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development told us it would be ready to open before the start of 2013. It wasn’t and it didn’t.
Stewart has for years been making claims about the opening date of the airport. In October 2010, Stewart said the airport would be open by the end of that year. It wasn’t.
Stewart was at it again in February 2011, when he confidently told media the airport would be completed by June 2011. It wasn’t. He also said a number of top world airlines (that he declined to name) were negotiating to use Sikhuphe. Nothing happened.
He returned to the theme two months later in April 2011 when this time he said the airport would be open by December 2011. But still no airport.
To date no international airline has announced it will use Sikhuphe when it eventually does open. This will mean that even if the airport is ready to receive planes it could be up to three years before any actually start to land.
In June 2012, SWACAA Marketing and Corporate Affairs Director Sabelo Dlamini told Swazi media that at least three airlines from different countries had ‘shown interest’ in using Sikhuphe, but declined to name them. He remained optimistic about the prospects for Sikhuphe and said SWACAA was talking to airlines in other countries as well.
But, he also revealed that it could take three years for an airline to actually start using the airport once it had decided to do so. ‘Normally, airline operators need about three years to prepare for such an exercise and we are nursing hopes that those we have approached will consider our proposals,’ he said.
Nothing has changed since he made that statement.
More recently, allegations were made in the Mail and Guardian newspaper in South Africa of major structural defects in the airport’s concrete apron and ‘that it is unfit for use by large commercial aircraft’.
Separately, official figures released by Deris Hlophe, SWACAA’s Air Transport Economist, showed that on average only 822 passengers a day were expected to use the airport.
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