"King Shaka" has turned out to be the most popular name for the new international airport at La Mercy after all.

Although locals have long called the airport taking shape on the North Coast,the King Shaka International Airport, it was not its official name.

First, there had to be a consultative process, when all the stakeholders, including the public, had to have their say.

And in August, the public was asked to state their preference. Did they like the name King Shaka - or did they want something else?

The Minister of Transport, S'bu Ndebele, said when he visited the airport recently that the naming process was urgent as pilots "cannot fly to a place with no name".

Bongiwe Pityi, the Airport Company South Africa's (Acsa) assistant general manager of operations at Durban International Airport, who also heads the operational readiness programme at the new airport, said on Monday that it was the familiar King Shaka which has topped the list of suggestions.

"Now it is a question of the cabinet approving that name and getting it gazetted. Hopefully, that will be by the end of this month," she said.

Acsa then had to contact the SA National Roads Agency to put up signage about the new airport on the national roads.

Signs also had to go up on provincial and city roads, she said.

The new R7-billion airport is going to open a day earlier than planned - May 1 instead of May 2, Pityi said.

This was because May 1 was a Saturday and there were fewer air traffic movements on a Saturday than a Sunday which would help with the opening.

The move from the current airport would take place in a 13-hour operation the day before.

A special stakeholder committee, comprising airline representatives, ground handlers and others, had been set up to look at the logistical planning behind the airport transfer, she said.

They were having talks with the city and the provincial department of transport about moving heavy equipment and how to find alternative routes so as not to inconvenience normal traffic.

Pityi heads a team of 24, each managing a functioning area of the new airport and all involved in the operational readiness programme, which ensures that by the time the airport opens, everything is running smoothly.

Triple

The number of facilities are almost triple those at the current airport.

There would be about 3 400 employees at the new airport and only 280 belonging to Acsa.

"As the operator, we need to take the lead and ensure every stakeholder - the airlines, the retail sector, and government agencies - also understand and are integrated."

If people did not know what to do, or even where to go, come opening day, Acsawould suffer a financial loss and a loss of credibility.

Familiarisation training had already started and by last Friday, almost 900 of the 3 400 staff had been trained.

Asked if there was a likelihood that people might forget what they had learned, she said critical front-line staff would also receive refresher training before the opening.

Trial operations were also due to begin, with "fake" passengers checking in while staff "enacted the theory they had been taught in the classroom", she said.

"This way, we will have an airport force who are thoroughly confident in what they have to do and who will be efficient from day one."

The readiness programme also involved "robust" plans to handle huge numbers of passengers during the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

The new airport can handle 1 300 departing passengers an hour, compared to 350 an hour at Durban International Airport.