The Swazi Observer, the newspaper owned by King Mswati III, is once again talking up the prospects that the building of Sikhuphe International Airport might be completed soon so it can open early next year.
The airport, dubbed King Mswati’s ‘vanity project’ by critics, was due to open in 2010 but failed to, and apologists for the project have been claiming it was ‘just about to open’ ever since.
The latest is acting director of the Millennium Project Management Unit (PMU) Patrick Mnisi who claimed, ‘The most part of the airport has already been completed.’
The Observer reported him saying the project would be handed over to the Swaziland Civil Aviation Association (SWACAA) in March 2013. Then, it would take SWACAA three months to train the staff so they were ready for the actual opening day.
Mnisi said the only thing that could disrupt the project would be lack of finance.
But, that is not true. In June 2012 SWACAA raised doubts that the airport would be able to receive aircraft before at least 2016 and nothing has happened since then to change that.
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. What I can safely say is that we have three potential airlines ready to operate from the airport,’ he told the Swazi Observer.
Although he did not say so, this meant it was highly unlikely that any significant air traffic would use Sikhuphe before at least 2016.
Dlamini also revealed that no agreement had been reached with Swaziland’s neighbours South Africa and Mozambique about which routes planes would be allowed to take in and out of Sikhuphe.
The building of Sikhuphe has been controversial because there is no obvious need for it. Swaziland already has an underused airport at Matsapha and no needs-analysis was ever completed to demonstrate why another airport should be built.
Most of the impetus for the building of the airport has come from King Mswati, who is sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, and is keen to show that his kingdom is on its way to becoming a ‘first world’ nation.
PROOF: KING’S AIRPORT POINTLESS