New airport begins operational testing

By Suren Naidoo

With more than R7,2-billion having already been ploughed into construction of KwaZulu-Natal's new international airport at La Mercy, north of Durban, the Airports Company of South Africa (Acsa) said yesterday that the airport's crucial operational testing phase had already started.

"This is probably the biggest risk to Acsa's balance sheet, so we have to ensure that we get it working well and as seamlessly as possible," said Acsa's managing director, Monhla Hlahla.

"The last two and a half years has been about the building, but with that winding down now, what's even more crucial is to get this new airport operationally ready.

"It's going to be challenging and the toughest time is now, but we have to make it happen or else all the hard work that we've done will not matter. This is where the rubber hits the tarmac... We can't have issues like with Terminal Five (at Heathrow) in London and have an intensive operational readiness and transfer programme dubbed ORAT, which is already in full swing. We've even brought in experts from London and Munich to learn lessons from what has worked and what hasn't at new airports globally," she said.

Acsa's Durban International Airport general manager, Terence Delomoney, said the first official test flight at the new airport was set to take place next Tuesday. The flight would test the runway, as well as navigational and other technical equipment.

"We are still on track for opening the new airport on May 1 next year. Effectively what will happen is that on the night of April 30 we will have our last flight at Durban International Airport and on the morning of May 1 our first flight will land at La Mercy," he said.

Acsa's airport project director, Sean van der Valk, said more than 86 percent of the R7,8bn development was now complete with about 7 500 construction workers still on site.

By the end of February 2010 all construction on site will cease for Acsa's ORAT programme to head into its peak phase.

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