Durban’s King Shaka International Airport is back on the radar of Air Mauritius, with the airline planning to re-introduce scheduled flights between the Indian Ocean island and the city from July.
This comes after it decided in October last year to can the route. The airline confirmed the re-introduction of the route in a statement at the weekend. Flights would resume from July 5.
The move to withdraw the flights last year took the KZN provincial government by surprise, especially because Air Mauritius was one of the only airlines to maintain an international route out of the old Durban airport before King Shaka International opened. When it announced the plan to cut the route, the idea was to bolster flights out of Joburg in a cost-cutting move.
Air Mauritius seemed unsure about the decision to drop Durban flights when it later said it would re-introduce flights for the festive season. The latest move to re-introduce scheduled flights comes after canvassing from the provincial government and demand from Durban passengers who did not want to go via Joburg.
Nevertheless, the announcement has been welcomed by Tourism KZN chief executive Ndabo Khoza and the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“The route was reviewed last year, following an in-depth analysis and restructure of the national carrier’s local, as well as international network. Based upon customer and industry stakeholder feedback, coupled with the long-standing partnership between the airline and KwaZulu-Natal, Air Mauritius leadership has decided to reinstate the route,” it said. The short statement put out by Air Mauritius gives the indication that it wants to use the reintroduction of scheduled flights more strategically by timing flights better for connections to other global destination out of Durban via Mauritius.
Carla da Silva, Air Mauritius’s regional manager for Southern Africa and Latin America, said: “There would be convenient onward connections, in particular to India, Malaysia and China, and cost-effective rates would be introduced.”
She said: “Air Mauritius will be working closely with our partners at the Airports Company of SA and government to ensure further synergies are also attained… Our value propositions encompassing incentive agreements, committed seats and Travel Smart (the airline’s travel programme) will be applicable to further assist our partners in helping us boost this route so that we can maintain it.”
Khoza said he knew Air Mauritius would bring back their route to Durban and it was “good news” for KZN Tourism.
“I knew it was a matter of time that they would come back… From what I understand, the original decision was based on the fact they had a shortage of planes. Durban was a busy route…
“Every international route out of King Shaka International is important to us and we will work with different stakeholders to make them more sustainable,” he said.
Khoza said the KZN government was also trying to secure a new route out of Durban to another Indian Ocean island, the Seychelles.
He said KZN Economic Development and Tourism MEC, Michael Mabuyakhulu, together with Dube TradePort and Tourism KZN officials, were in talks with Air Seychelles.
Negotiations began with Air Seychelles late last year after a trade visit to the island by Mabuyakhulu. The MEC also met Seychelles Minister of Tourism and Culture Alain St Ange at the World Travel Market tourism trade show in London in November. The talks with Seychelles may be part of the reason behind the Air Mauritius move to come back to Durban.
It is understood that the KZN government was keen on having the route secure “fourth and fifth freedom rights”, which could see travellers fly out of Durban with a stopover in the Seychelles before flying to other international destinations in Air Seychelles’ network.
Dubai-based airline Emirates is the only long-haul international route out of King Shaka International, while SA Express has regional flights to Zambia, Harare and Mozambique.
Meanwhile, it was reported during the recent Brics Summit in Durban that KZN would host the World Route Development Forum in 2015. The event will take place in Africa for the first time and see airline, airport, tourism board and government bosses from 110 countries meet in Durban.
Khoza said hosting World Routes was a unique opportunity for KZN to showcase its airport, Durban and the country to global air service decision-makers.