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Only Mswati’s private jet likely to use R3bn airport

Mbabane - Swaziland’s ruler and sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, King Mswati III, officially opened the impoverished country’s expensive new airport – costing R3 billion – on Friday night and decreed that it would be called the King Mswati III International Airport.

Swaziland's King Mswati III. Credit: Reuters

As his name blazed in neon lettering atop the terminal building, a hand-picked crowd of royalty and loyalists cheered.

With no airline willing to fly into Swaziland to use the new airport, however, it is likely that only the king’s private jet will make use of it.

The IMF cautioned when the airport plan was announced in 2003 that the country could not afford and did not need the facility, which was built without a business plan.

The airport will require 400 000 passengers annually to break even. Only one airline, Swaziland Airlink, serves the country and transports a meagre 70 000 passengers annually.

The government is a shareholder and it is likely that Swaziland Airlink will be forced to operate out of the King Mswati III International Airport despite a 2006 study which found that relocation would bankrupt the air carrier.

Swaziland Airlink only operates between the administrative capital Mbabane and Johannesburg. The new airport is located in an isolated patch of lowveld.

Nevertheless, King Mswati was full of enthusiasm when he spoke to his followers at the dedication of the new airport.

Airlines do not want to fly to Swaziland because there are few Swaziland-destined passengers and no connecting flights to other countries, and many experts believe that having the airport located so close to OR Tambo International Airport makes it redundant.

Pro-democracy activist Samuel Dlamini said: “Of course, the king named the airport after himself. That’s what dictators do. But the tragedy is that this is a poor country with a population that is jobless, homeless, hungry and sick, and the money is desperately needed for legitimate use.”

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