Provincial government’s investment of R140 million in smaller regional airports is paying off, but it is time for the private sector to look at investing in these airports, says Clive Coetzee, manager for infrastructure at the KZN Treasury.
Speaking at the KZN Infrastructure Funding Fair at Pietermaritzburg’s Royal Showgrounds last week, Coetzee said there were opportunities to be explored at many of KZN’s smaller, underused airports.
“The provincial government, through the KZN Treasury, has invested a significant amount of money and other resources in several of these smaller airports. The main beneficiaries include airports in Pietermaritzburg, Ulundi, Richards Bay, Margate and Newcastle, but we have also looked at Mkuze airport and landing strips in locations like Dundee,” said Coetzee.
“We also launched the KZN Winter Air Tour that put the spotlight on these airports, including Durban’s Virginia Airport. Seven air shows are now part of the annual event. We have made an investment and now the private sector must look at opportunities at these airports.”
The provincial government had adopted the KZN municipal airport strategy last year to breathe new life into smaller disused, underused or poorly performing airports. In this year’s state of the province address, former premier Zweli Mkhize said the revamp was targeted at boosting local economic development.
Coetzee said the KZN Treasury’s R140m investment in upgrades to infrastructure and equipment at the smaller airports was aimed at not only getting them to operate more efficiently, but attracting airlines and private-sector investment.
“We have made a significant investment in the face of tightening fiscal budgets and other greater service-delivery responsibilities. Now it’s time for the private sector to identify opportunities at these airports. Many of these airports have large tracts of land around them that can be developed.”
Coetzee said one of the projects the KZN Treasury was working on with four municipalities was to develop technology hubs in KZN, and the best places for these were near airports. Plans were afoot for hubs in Richards Bay, Pietermaritzburg, Newcastle and the South Coast.
In August, The Mercury reported on plans around Pietermaritzburg Airport (see picture), where Msunduzi Municipality is hatching plans for a technology hub that will be home to an “aviation industry cluster” and hopes to secure R2 billion in private sector investment.
The Pietermaritzburg technology park is seen as a strong contender for investment because of its location near one of the fastest-growing airports in South Africa and because the KZN capital is home to some of the country’s top schools and engineering and metal fabrication companies.
Coetzee said he wanted the airports to attract investment not only in aviation and tourism-related services, but also from manufacturing and technology industries.
He said following the upgrades to the airports there had been renewed interest, with several new air routes established from Ulundi, Pietermaritzburg, Virginia and Margate.
Federal Air had flights between Ulundi and Pietermaritzburg, Ulundi and Durban and Ulundi and Joburg. There was also more competition, with SA Express set to fly the Pietermaritzburg-Joburg route, taking on SA Airlink, while Airlink was also set to compete with SA Express on the Richards Bay to Joburg route.
“We also have some great news on the Margate Airport, with an airline ready to start operating to Joburg… The Joburg-Ulundi route that started two weeks ago is doing very well,” said Coetzee.
“All of a sudden it is happening. All our investment and efforts are starting to pay off. This is were the air shows are playing a key role.
“The pieces are starting to fall into place. The plan is coming together. Unfortunately there are some obstacles, but they can be overcome.”