All systems go for King Shaka International as airport prepares for new normal amid coronavirus pandemic
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Durban - King Shaka International Airport, the "heartbeat of the provincial economy" is ready to resume operations in the new Covid-19 pandemic world, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala declared on Wednesday.
Speaking after he and members of the KZN provincial cabinet conducted a state of readiness of the airport, Zikalala said they were pleased with the safety measures that have been put in place by the Airports Company of South Africa (Acsa) and its staff to get the airport ready for the full resumption of flights.
Getting the airport ready was important to kickstart the economy which has contracted by R30-billion and the tourism sector has been the hardest hit due to the lockdown regulations because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
KZN derives a significant proportion of its GDP from tourism as it commands the lion's share of the domestic tourism market.
The lockdown resulted in tourists being unable to visit the province after flights were grounded in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
"As the provincial government and the KwaZulu-Natal Command Team on coronavirus, we have received a report on how this national asset has been deep cleaned. We are also satisfied with the reports we got on how the various airline carriers are also implementing strict hygiene protocols in line with the directives of the Minister of Transport as well as international best practice," Zikalala said.
"Regular cleaning of hands and physical distancing is at the core of the national strategy aimed at preventing infections. We are sure that you saw for yourselves that KSIA has embraced this new culture of improved cleanliness with the visible hand sanitisers almost at every turn of the airport. Those who come to the airport are also required to wear a face mask to protect themselves and those around them from infection," he said.
Last month, Transport Minister, Fikile Mbalula allowed for phase 1 domestic flights, there was an attendant requirement that airports and airlines had to first submit Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACCA).
Of the four airports that were initially granted permission for domestic air travel by the minister, KSIA was one of them that submitted its SOP.
The regulator, then followed with a compliance inspection.
Zikala said it was important that KSIA and all our airports must observe strict adherence to the safety measures put in place as any Covid-19 outbreaks that will be related to airports have the potential to negatively affect the industry, travellers, and the many who earn a living by working at them.
"We call upon those coming here to embrace the new culture of doing things and to embrace the new normal of hand hygiene, social distancing, wearing of masks, and avoiding touching of faces. It is truly in the hands of South African travellers to prevent avoidable deaths that can be caused by Covid-19, especially to persons with underlying health conditions," he said.
Zikala added that the government. was constantly having to make decision on the delicate balance between saving lives and saving livelihoods.
"King Shaka International Airport is the heartbeat of the provincial economy, and it is in the national interest to give it oxygen and get it out of the ICU that came as a result of the hard lockdown. We must work together and succeed with our plans to build the planned globally competitive Durban Aetropolis, our envisaged city region, which has a potential of creating 750 000 jobs during the implementation phase," he said.
MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs Nomsa Dube-Ncube said that, since President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the lockdown in March, they has been engaging experts, industry stakeholders representing different sectors of our economy.
"I have no doubt that this ongoing partnership between government and the private sector will help this province tide over the Covid-19 storm," Dube-Ncube said.
"As we re redevelop and reconstruct our economy, the Aviation Sector remains critical. Stats show that around February, air transport and tourism industries in SA supported a total of about 472 000 jobs and contributed about R180 billion to Gross Domestic Product each year. Fast forward to the beginning of June, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimated that in SA 252 000 jobs were at risk. They further pointed out that the contribution of the aviation industry to the SA economy could be reduced to R97 billion," she said.
Dube-Ncube said that without the aviation industry, our economic recovery efforts will not yield positive results.