The proposed R100bn development of a dugout port at the old Durban International Airport. Picture: supplied

Air Force Base Durban, home to 15 Squadron since the early 1980s, is to move to King Shaka International Airport to make way for Transnet’s R100 billion dig-out container terminal.

The move from the Prospecton site, which is estimated to cost “a minimum of R800 million”, has been confirmed by the Department of Defence.

But while questions about the time frame of the move and who will foot the bill remain unanswered, DA MP David Maynier has expressed concern that should the department itself fund the move, it could prove detrimental to an already strained SA Air Force budget.

“The air force is not able to optimally operate the Gripen or Hawk fighter aircraft because of underfunding,” he said.

The base is next to the old airport site, which the state-owned freight logistics and transport entity is keen to snap up. According to the national Department of Public Works, Transnet had expressed its intention to buy the land the base occupies, although “to date no formal offer or terms and conditions have been determined”, department spokesman Thami Mchunu said.

Although Transnet and Airports Company SA are yet to conclude negotiations on the price tag which the former will shell out for the old airport site, the relocation of Durban’s air force is a clear signal that port development plans are surging ahead.

The Department of Defence has until now remained tight-lipped, saying only that a move is “possible”. But it finally released the information after being confronted with its 2010/11 annual report.

The document states that a decision to move Air Force Base Durban to King Shaka airport has been reached, but has not been implemented yet because of the financial implications.

“The total cost for the relocation is estimated at R800m,” the report says.

Department spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini has confirmed the contents of the document, saying that “intense discussions” between stakeholders, including Transnet and the Department of Public Works, are under way.

The operational and domestic areas of the base occupy 27.8ha at present, but the department would not reveal the staff complement.

Dlamini said the nature of the infrastructure and the equipment that would need to be moved and built at the new site complicated the task.

“When King Shaka was built, it was not built with security or military considerations in mind,” he said. “Construction will have to start from scratch, so this could be considered phase two of building for the airport… Office space, workshops, hangars and a range of things which come with a base would need to be built. The cost could be higher; R800m is the minimum.”

King Shaka airport spokesman Colin Naidoo said that while he was aware of the air force plans, no formal discussions had been entered into.

Development

The Mercury understands that La Mercy may also be the new home of the SAPS air wing situated adjacent to the old airport site, but SAPS spokesman Vish Naidoo has said the unit was staying put until told otherwise.

The chairman of the KwaZulu-Natal Growth Coaliton, Moses Tembe, said he could not think of any implications the relocation would have for business, but said it could only be positive as it made way for the port’s development.

“Our understanding is that in the first quarter of this year, a deal will be consummated.”

Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele said that since Acsa had paid more than R6 billion to shift its operations from the old airport in the south of Durban to La Mercy, part of its return should be the resale of the old site.

“They should get at least R2bn out of the resale,” he said. It has been reported that Transnet has set aside R1.5bn for the deal.

The first phase of the port’s construction, expected to start in 2015, is set to cost R50bn. - The Mercury