SA Airlink is extending its existing fleet of 41 aircraft by the addition of 30 new Embraer ERJ35 Regional jets from Brazil.

Mthatha, Eastern Cape - An SA Airlink plane became the first aircraft to land on Mthatha Airport's new runway on Thursday morning, the Eastern Cape transport department said.

“This historic landing marks the beginning of a brighter future for the airport as it can now accommodate bigger aircraft... ,” spokesman Ncedo Kumbaca said in a statement.

The new runway formed part of the first phase of the airport's upgrade, which was expected to be completed during the current financial year, and would include a new terminal building.

The department said it wanted the airport to be the gateway to the east of the province by making it a hub linking road, rail and air transportation.

Transport MEC Thandiswa Marawu said the airport would help the South Eastern Node and Corridor development project planned for the Eastern Cape through the presidential infrastructure co-ordinating commission.

The national transport department had allocated R465 million to the project.

“This intervention cannot be successful if we cannot have an anchor logistical hub in the centre of the corridor,” Marawu was quoted as saying in the statement.

Marawu said it would also boost the province's industrial and agricultural development and export capacity.

“This project will enable government to unlock the economic growth potential of the region and the province as a whole, as it provides access to the internationally renowned Wild Coast and other historic heritage sites,” she said.

Kumbaca said the airport was trying attract more airlines to the route between Mthatha and Johannesburg, and later Mthatha and Durban. SA Airlink was currently the only airline using it. - Sapa