City officials are ready for the new flight plan

Durban - The final countdown has begun to the most anticipated tourism event of the year: the start of the direct British Airways flights between London and Durban.
When BA’s latest aircraft - the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner - touches down at King Shaka International Airport at the end of its sold-out inaugural flight early next Tuesday, it will herald the start of a new era of increased international connectivity and tourism.

KZN is experiencing increased international arrivals via King Shaka International Airport, and the new long-awaited direct route is set to boost the number of visitors who will no longer have to break their journeys on stopovers at other airports.

Some 100 000 passengers currently fly indirectly between Durban and London.

There’s been great excitement since economic development, tourism and environmental affairs MEC Sihle Zikalala announced the direct flights at the Africa Travel Indaba in Durban earlier this year.

It was the “announcement of the year”, and a game-changer that would connect Durban globally and make it competitive, he said, while leading hotelier Mike Jackson described it as “the scoop of the decade”.

The MEC and eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede will get an early start next Tuesday to be at the airport at 5.30am to welcome the first direct flight.

Having a direct link between Durban and London would “most certainly” make KZN and its attractions easy to package and sell, said KZN Tourism’s acting chief executive Phindile Makwakwa.

“The UK is one of our key markets and BA has already informed us that inward-bound tourism is looking extremely good, which is exciting,” she added.

Local hotels, attractions and tour operators are already offering package deals for passengers coming in on the direct BA flights. As well as the prospect of increased tourism, the new route is also predicted to increase bilateral trade and airfreight volumes between Durban and London.

Hamish Erskine, chief executive of Dube TradePort, foresees a healthy demand on the UK route. “Airfreight volumes between Durban and London are in excess of 1500 tons per annum, which is expected to increase substantially with additional volumes into the US markets, and connecting via the British Airways’ London hub,” he said.

The local business community is so thrilled about all that the new route can offer that some big corporates are planning to sponsor 100 UK business leaders and influencers from different sectors to fly to Durban over the next year on familiarisation trips to experience the region and raise the province’s business profile, said Russell Curtis, head of eThekwini Municipality’s Invest Durban unit.

The route is part of BA’s £4.5billion (R83.8bn) customer investment plan.

BA stopped flying direct to Durban in the 1990s as a result of the runway at the “old” Durban airport being too short for newer planes to take off with a full load of passengers and fuel. More direct international flights were in the pipeline, according to the MEC.

The Mercury