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New Durban airport on track for 2010 Cup

South Africa’s Minister of Transport Jeff Radebe announced on Thursday that the new international airport at La Mercy, 30km north of Durban, will be operational, and the Durban International airport decommissioned, in the first quarter of 2010 in time for the Soccer World Cup.

He added that the final rationalised structure for the management and ownership of the Dube Tradeport, to be integrated with the airport, has also been agreed.

Radebe said it was a priority to accelerate the programme in line with the imperatives around the World Cup in 2010 and that the completion date had been moved forward from 2012 to 2010.

“The various engagements with all parties have come a long and rocky road, but we have finalised a structure that represents both certainty, cost rationalisation, ease of management and implementation as well as correctly apportioning risk and responsibility,” Radebe said.

“The Airports Company South Africa [Acsa] shall exclusively build, operate and own the airport and the passenger terminals in terms of the procurement that is currently in process by Dube Tradeport company, and to the existing timelines agreed in that process.

“The key date in that process being that all construction shall be completed by December 2009. The airport will then be commissioned by the first quarter 2010, well in time for the 2010 World Cup,” said Radebe.

CEO of Acsa, Monhla Hlahla, said the projected minimum costs were R2,5-billion.

Hlahla said if these changes weren’t made there wouldn’t be “room to breathe” at the current Durban airport by 2012 due to a passenger growth rate of 14%.

“The present Durban infrastructure can’t accommodate freight and passengers,” added Hlahla.

“It is not just the relocation that is important from an economic perspective, but things like a longer 3,7km runway to accommodate the bigger airbus will see terminal growth well into the future,” said Dube Tradeport chief executive Rohan Persad.

“The tradeport and airport will include a cargo terminal, warehouse space, an agri-zone and a cyberport — an electronic trading platform for efficiencies in imports and exports,” added Persad.

Radebe said the Dube Tradeport company would exclusively own, manage and develop the tradeport, the agri-zones and the cyberport, including the cargo handling terminals in the airport.

“The land will be transferred to the Dube Tradeport company for development for its own account. These facilities will be integrated into the existing integrated logistics-system planning processes occurring at national, provincial and local level,” said Radebe.

The entire La Mercy process has been plagued by problems for a long time — a public-private partnership was established in 1995 to pursue the initiative — and Thursday’s announcement should go a long way to putting all the major doubts around the project to rest.

However, costs remain a key concern as if costs increase they will place too high a strain on borrowings to finance the development, and as it is, the price is already up from the previously forecast R1,8-billion to the R2,5-billion announced on Thursday.

A spokesperson said on Thursday that two bids were being adjudicated on and an announcement on the result could be made in the next two weeks.

Hlahla said the possibility existed that international traffic will be attracted to the new airport at La Mercy, but she did not foresee any negative impact on Johannesburg International or Acsa. — I-Net Bridge

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Evan Pickworth
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