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Beginning of the journey

How is Durban’s King Shaka International Airport faring nearly five years on from its opening? Joe Bates investigates.

They say good things are worth waiting for and this is certainly the case with Durban’s King Shaka International Airport, which took nearly 50 years to plan and build, but has wasted little time in handling record traffic figures.

For in the first two financial years after its much heralded May 1, 2010, opening, 4.87 million passengers (+10.7%) and 5 million (+3.5%) respectively passed through its facilities.

Indeed, the future looked bright for traffic growth for years to come as the airlines raved about their new $900 million Durban home and passengers waxed lyrical about its sparkling new 7.5 million passenger capacity terminal with state-of-the-art IT systems and 52 shops and F&B outlets.

However, things haven’t gone quite according to plan in the last two financial years for the KwaZulu-Natal located gateway, which has seen its annual throughput drop to 4.46 million after yearly declines of 7% and 4.4% respectively.

Operator, Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), attributes the downturn to a 4% drop in domestic travel, claiming that rising air fares ensure that many visitors and locals now drive the 500km distance between Johannesburg and Durban.

They point out that international traffic is booming, rising 22% last year and is set to break more records in 2015.

It notes that King Shaka remains one of the most modern airports in Africa, third busiest in South Africa and tenth busiest on the continent in terms of passenger traffic.

ACSA, which owns and operates the La Mercy-located airport 35km north of Durban, admits that the exceptional growth recorded at King Shaka in calendar years 2010 and 2011 was primarily down to football’s World Cup finals being held in South Africa and the tourism boom that followed.

And it argues that with customer satisfaction levels at a record high – the airport was runner up to Cape Town in the Airport Service Quality (ASQ) awards for Africa for the second successive year and in 2013 it won the Skytrax award for the best gateway in the world handling under 5mppa – it must be doing something right!

Regional general manager, Terence Delomoney, says: “There is no doubt that 2014 has been a year of challenges and traffic growth isn’t quite where we want it to be yet, but Durban’s potential ensures that we are very hopeful of better things to come in the years ahead.

“As with any new airport, there was that ‘build it and they will come’ expectancy when we opened King Shaka in 2010, but as we all know, life is not that simple and one of the key challenges we face is encouraging more airlines to fly here and route development.

“It is for that reason we are supporting and partnering with South Africa’s departments of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs and Dube Tradeport to bring events like ACI Africa and World Routes to the region to showcase the airport and what the region has to offer in terms of tourism and business opportunities.”

Making Durban and KwaZulu-Natal a ‘destination of choice’ is certainly the goal, and Delomoney feels that the collaborative effort approach has put the airport in a strong position to play its part in an “exciting future” for the region.

He would certainly like to see more international routes out of Durban, which today only has a handful of non-stop international services as 95% of passengers travel on domestic flights.

 

Customer service

Delomoney notes that King Shaka takes customer service very seriously and insists that ACSA is always striving to do better to improve the airport experience for passengers.

“Customer service is paramount at all levels,” states Delomoney, noting that King Shaka continues to do well in both ACI’s annual ASQ customer satisfaction survey and the Skytrax awards.

“I believe it is crucial that our staff and all airport employees are conscious of the importance of customer service, and we aim to do this through training programmes and the development of a culture where the delivery of excellent customer service is constant and consistent across the airport.

“Our participation in the ASQ survey also provides us with the opportunity to hopefully learn from the best every year.”

 

Infrastructure

Delomoney says that King Shaka’s modern new facilities and existing 7.5mppa capacity mean that ACSA has no immediate plans to enhance the gateway’s key infrastructure.

It is, however, currently building a new service station in the airport precinct, which is due to open in the first quarter of 2015, and is looking to revamp the retail/F&B offering in the terminal.

“A number of concessions for retail/F&B and other business opportunities in the terminal are currently out to tender and we expect to announce contracts early in the new year,” reveals Delomoney.

“Feedback from passengers will play a part in our decision making as, in a recent independent survey, they indicated that they would like to see a number of changes. We also want to introduce more passenger-friendly facilities across the board, some of which will include making journeys easier for people with disabilities.”

About the need for new aeronautical-related infrastructure such as terminals and runways, he adds: “As with all airports, upgrades are determined by demand, and we are not there yet in terms of needing more capacity as the airport is only five years old. 

“We will, however, continue to upgrade and improve the existing facilities, as we are doing with the planned new retail/F&B outlets, when necessary.”

The official master plan for the airport projected several development phases up to 2060 by which time it is expected to
have two parallel runways and a terminal capable of accommodating
45 million passengers yearly.

That is, of course, a long time in the future, but it just goes to show how ambitious and even bullish ACSA is when it comes to Durban’s King Shaka International Airport.

 

 

Dube TradePort

The airport forms part of the Dube TradePort, which additionally consists of a trade zone linked to the airport’s cargo terminal, facilities to support the airport such as nearby offices,
a conference centre and hotel accommodation for tourists, an integrated agricultural export zone, and an IT and telecommunications precinct.

It calls the different areas/precincts Dube City; Dube Cargo Terminal; Dube TradeZone; and Dube AgriZone, which according to Dube TradePort  are designed to create a globally competitive, multi-modal trade gateway to southern Africa and the world.

Indeed, in November, Dube TradePort announced plans to create KwaZulu-Natal’s own Silicon Valley in Dube TradePort by 2016 following Eureka Capital’s decision to develop a seven-storey 21,500sqm building in the heart of Dube City, adjacent to King Shaka International Airport. 

Saxen van Coller, CEO of Dube TradePort Corporation, says: “Eureka Capital is the first major private sector investor in our Dube City precinct and this landmark deal is a testament to Dube TradePort’s ability to attract investment into KwaZulu-Natal.”

The innovation hub by Eureka Capital aims to accelerate the growth of knowledge-intensive enterprises, providing established businesses, as well as start-ups, with an incubation facility that brings together academics, researchers, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists under one roof.  

CEO, Thobani Msimang, says: “We are building a technology hub; in South Africa we don’t have a place where entrepreneurs can incubate their ideas, where people with relevant industry experience, such as top executives from international companies, can come in and take those ideas to the next level, through a controlled developmental regime. 

“We know that Dube TradePort is the right fit for this venture as it has shown foresight in investing in some of the most advanced technology. We plan to add to this by bringing in the best in international expertise and technology to South Africa.”

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