Britain’s airport operator BAA has sold Gatwick Airport south of London for £1.51 billion to Global Infrastructure Partners, an investment fund that also owns London City airport.
Six thousand miles away on the balmy coast of KwaZulu-Natal, another international airport is also up for sale, only the buyer probably won’t be interested in flying planes.
The Gatwick deal follows an inquiry by the UK’s Competition Commission into BAA and its dominance of airports in the country’s South East and in Scotland.
Last March, the commission ruled that BAA sell either Gatwick, Stansted, Edinburgh or Glasgow airports to another operator, The Times reported from London.
And so it was done.
Back here in the Republic, Comair – which operates Kulula and British Airways’ South African operations – wants to buy Durban International Airport from the Airports Company of South Africa (Acsa) after the end of the Fifa World Cup in 2010.
Durban International – which is to be replaced by the mammoth King Shaka International Airport at La Mercy, 50km to the north of the city – enjoys an excellent position just south of Durban, in the heart of its industrial area.
As Comair joint CEO Gidon Novick told the Sunday Times, Ryanair’s huge success in Europe is largely due to its use of secondary airports in major cities.
But Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele says there is to be no competing against King Shaka. So, the old airport is likely to be sold for a huge amount of cash for industrial development.
Novick points out that the King Shaka International is so far north of the city that it will effectively leave the well-populated South Coast without an airport. Those people will give up flying and go by car instead, and the air travel market into Durban will shrink, along with tourism and business.
The message is: no competition for Acsa. The potential problems facing people and businesses on the South Coast don’t seem to carry any weight at all.
What a wonderful world it would be if South Africa’s competition watchdog actually had any teeth, and was prepared to use them.
Seriously, does Durban need two airports? The current airport is a disaster waiting to happen with all the refineries and industrial complexes around it. The thinking that a guy living in Margate would rather drive 600kms to Joburg than another 50kms through the built up areas of Durban really is a laugh. They should instead use this as one of those silly jokes on Kulula!
The issue here is that Durban International Airport should be sold to the highest bidder, and if that happens to be an airline, so be it. Saying that the airport is for sale, but not as a functioning airport, is hardly in the spirit of free and fair competition.
I ask again; is it viable to have two airports in Durban? Looks like Novick and Co are throwing their toys out the cot again; playing victim against the big bad government. Come on, we can see through this ploy. What is so difficult with landing your planes at the new airport? Is it because it has finally been built by people you would never dream of putting a bridge across a stream. have they have finally shamed you into seeing that they are actually competent? As long as people pursue this Golf Estate mentality, this country will never come together. Best Comair concentrate on acquiring new aircraft because their BA offering is a disgrace.
Why not? The JHB-PTA conurbation has five airports, two of which are international airports and the remainder general aviation airports handling private flying, some domestic services and charter work. If Virginia Airport in Durban closes – something that has been on the cards for some time – it will leave Durban without a GA airport, something that all cities need. General aviation and international airports don’t mix well, especially not when a monopoly exists and the airport operator can hike airport fees as high as it likes.
I have to agree with MTouch on this one. I this entire marketing ploy by Comair has been lapped up by you and other media Paul to the detriment of the truth. Lets be honest here, Comair never had any true intentions to buy Durban airport, but to look like the “saviour of the people” they put in “an offer” that they could never dream of affording. All the while knowing that government would not let them operate an airport in competition with the new gem in King Shaka. Therefore to the ill-informed average joe out there, Comair comes across as down trodden by the big bad government. Its a total laugh.
The article is also full of total inaccuracies and i’ll-truths.
Firstly the new airport is not 50km north of the city, it may well be 50km north of the current airport, but it is only 35km north of central Durban.
Secondly, the bulk of the Durban flying public are based to the north and west of the city. Those in the north are now closer and those in the west have no further to drive than before.
Finally, who is Comair to say that the new airport will lead to a 30% drop in passenger numbers from Durban? I think you Paul, as a journalist, should dig deeper into that. What Comair is actually saying, is that because the new airport will open Durban to an international flying market which the length of the current runway has hampered it from having, airlines that currently benefit from the archaic Johannesburg hub theory are set to lose. The current poor souls of Durban that have to fork out a domestic flight on top of an international one, will start to fly internationally direct from Durban, therefore bypassing Joburg. This will hurt Kulula’s business, this is what he is worried about. This is why they are not keen on King Shaka.
Why not go dig deeper on that one?
Finally, the argument that Durban airport could keep going and that King Shaka was not needed should be put to rest. Go look at the feasibility reports (all freely available online) about staying at the current airport or moving to King Shaka. It would have been ridiculously expensive to expand the current airport and it would have eventually needed to move in the future anyway, therefore moving to King Shaka now has actually saved the country a bucket load of cash in the future.
Durban as a city has been hamstrung by an ineffective airport. This has had serious negative effects on economic growth. This new airport is there to right that wrong.
On Virgina, the city has no intentions of closign that airport. If you read all statements by the city on the matter, and you read the technical reports on the business case of Virginia, you will see that that it is vitally important to the city and they recognise this. Those spreading stories otherwise are clearly not well read. Shame.
And heck if PMB moves its airport to Camperdown like they are planning, then the opportunities for Kulula will be there. On that, why have they not looked at Margate as a destination?
The new airport offers 1000 times more good for the city than bad. Its just true that the bad is for airlines like Comair, due to Durbanites being to bypass their ancient planes for proper international airlines.
Why dont Comair use the “money” they wanted to spend on buying Durban international on some decent new planes? not the 30 year old one’s they like to put a new coat of paint on and claim to be new.
Mike, the point remains that Comair should be allowed to buy the airport if they have the cash to, and operate it as they see fit.
Secondly, Durban International is quite able to accommodate “heavies”. BA used to operate direct flights to the UK with 747s from there, and Emirates is flying to Dubai. So, it’s already functioning as an international airport.
Why ACSA couldn’t enlarge the terminal building, as has been suggested in the past, instead of the taxpayers having to fork out R7bn for another airport that may – or may not – ever get the traffic worthy of its creation, has yet to be adequately answered.
As for Virginia Airport, the editorial in the October edition of World Airnews comments that all leases will allegedly expire in 2012 and that thereafter they will be made renewable on a month-to-month basis, something which hardly suggests that there is a long-term vision for the airport to remain an airport.
The thing is Comair dont have the cash and have no airport operating experience. Yes bring in a partner, but if you are the only people flying there and the land is so damn valuable for the future development of Durban, its economic waste to keep it as another airport.
Durban airport’s runway is far too short to accomodate intercontinental flights at full capacity. The 747′s in the old days used to take off in Durban, land in Joburg and then take off from there to London. They were canned, not because there was not demand, but because it did not make economic sense to operate like that.
Emirates have specifically chosen the A330-200 as it can take off and fly the distance to Dubai from Durban. Their 777′s would not be able to. Also Dubai is alot closer than Europe, allowing them to make the flight. The A330-200 leaving Durban would not make it Europe on the current runway without a significant payload restriction.
As i pointed out previously, there are many reasons why they could not expand the airport, clearly you decided to cast these aside. If you would like to read the report please email me and i will gladly send it on. Read it, then i would like to hear from you.
On Virginia, yes the city will be running month to month leases from 2012, however there is a clear reason for this, but the city has no intention of closing the airport. I will try to find the article from 2-3 months ago where he stated that people saying the city wants to close Virginia are just looked to sow panic.
It comes across that a specific agenda is being persued with regards to the constant anti KSIA attitude. And the scary thing is that most journalists refuse to properly research things and pass opinion and hearsay as facts.
Stupid article and journalist needs to look at his information properly. How can you compare Heatrow/Gatwick, two major international airports, to DIA and KSIA?
Mike. Are you in receipt of some private information “Comair has no cash” or are you just too clever?
Let them buy the airport and lose or make money. Their problem, not yours.
The fact is the Airport will be given away to a crony and we (taxpayers) will all lose…again.
Well take a look at their market capitalisation vs the cost of the airport and you will see that they dont have the funds.
And i find it hard to see how we will “lose” with only having one airport. The land is far more valuable being developed for other reasons, surely you can see that?
I reckon keep the old runway for General Aviation use. It will be far away enough from the new airport so GA traffic stays well clear. Would be a perfect base for GA and chartered flights arround the coast.
Aeroporto di Italia when they owned 30% of ACSA had the view that KSIA was not viable. It is a traffic nightmare. But a political decision goes ahead beacuse all experts remain silent for fear of losing fees and future work. A private developer would have been told that KSIA is not viable.
The project was allegedly shelved by the previous government for that same reason. There’s no going back now, though …
A lot of negative comments about our new airport. FIrst the ground work was done during the 70′s. The land could not be used since then for any other purpose, we used to use its air space as the general flying area for training students, and the military did some helocopter training there as well in the past. I doubt that it was practical to develop it further until recently, since Durban’s has had exponential growth north of the city and it inot going to stop any time soon. As such, the airport is in the best possible location for the furture of the area. The complaints that mention how much further it is away from the city are rubbish. The old aiport an KSIA are along the same main highway and it would take about 30 minutes max to travel from the old to the new location. I live in the north and could get to the old site in 20 minutes if it was before rush hour traffic, it will take me about 15 minutes now to get to KSIA, not much in it really. The old airport had reached its limit it was no longer viable; dropping offs, collecting people was a nightmare. As the through road was restricted by this operation, getting to the parking was becoming an absolute joke. So I’m really happy about the KSIA design it seems to be well thought out for today’s use and into the future. I would also have thought that the South Coasters would be enjoying the pleasant sounds of the ocean and birds again minus the roar of the jets!