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Dubai-based Emirates airline has reaffirmed its confidence in Durban as a leading South African tourist destination by launching its first Boeing 777-300ER to King Shaka International Airport.
The new aircraft will boost passenger capacity by almost 30 percent, ensuring that even more travellers, both domestic and international, will pass through Durban en route to their respective destinations.
The new 354-seat aircraft, which also introduces the airline’s first class cabin on the Durban route, will touch down at King Shaka Airport this afternoon.
Fouad Caunhye. Emirate’s regional manager for Southern Africa, said this move by the airline, especially in light of current economic pressures, served to confirm its commitment to Durban, adding that he had witnessed the city’s growth in terms of both leisure and business travel.
“Durban is one of South Africa’s most popular tourist destinations and the introduction of the new Boeing 777 is a direct response to increasing passenger demand on this route.”
In 2011, Emirates carried more than 165000 passengers on flights to and from Durban, and with the introduction of the new aircraft, the airline expects to grow this number by almost a third, Caunhye said.
The favourable response to Emirates’ Durban route from the middle and Far East, China and Dubai, had kept seat factors “very healthy”, while there had also been a “strong pick-up” from the Japanese market prior to the earthquake in that country last year.
Caunhye said the Durban route saw a large amount of religious traffic, as well as leisure travel, both inbound and outbound, from the UK and USA. Business traffic from south-east Asia, Europe, Germany and Spain was also significant.
“We have also seen a stronger development of possible connections through Durban to places like Mozambique.”
Apart from passenger travel, the new aircraft will also provide a 90 percent increase in cargo capacity on the Durban route. Last year, Emirates SkyCargo, the freight arm of the airline, carried more than 5000 tons of cargo. This cargo was led by high-value South African exports including automobile and machinery parts, engineering tools, clothing and consumer goods, as well as electronics.
Cargo manager Kum Naiker said the port of Durban was already the busiest in Africa, and this, coupled with the increase in capacity from the new Boeing 777 service and continued growth of the Dube TradePort, would “truly confirm Durban’s position as Africa’s global trade gateway”.
Caunhye said the company was aware of financial pressures due to current markets, but had plans in place to enable the airline to continue operating successfully despite them.