BUSINESS NEWS - Durban’s King Shaka International Airport has retained its position as the fastest growing international airport in South Africa, according to officials at the Airports Company of South Africa (Acsa) and Dube TradePort.
Overall the airport grew by around 6.5% in 2019 compared to 2018 and surpassed the six million passenger mark for the first time, handling just over 6.26 million passengers last year.
The airport was boosted by growing passenger numbers on both the domestic and international side, with December being a bumper month showing double-digit overall growth.
Acsa typically reports on official passenger numbers at its airport for its financial year to the end of March. However, monthly passenger statistics are available on its website and can easily be compared to previous years.
The stats reveal that King Shaka International’s overall passenger numbers grew 11.4% in December, to just over 616 000. Domestic passengers made up the bulk of this (over 570 000), growing 11.6%. The balance was made up of international passengers (including African regional flights), which grew by 9%.
It was a record year on the international front for the airport, with more than 400 000 international passenger arrivals and departures in 2019 – up some 9.7% on 2018.
The growth in international passengers comes on the back of British Airways launching a three times weekly direct route between London and Durban in late 2018. Dubai-based Emirates, which has been operating a daily flight to the airport since it opened in 2010, operated a second flight on the route between late June and August last year.
While King Shaka International showed noteworthy growth in the face of SA’s flagging economy, passenger growth slowed at Acsa’s larger OR Tambo International (Joburg) and Cape Town International airports in 2019.
OR Tambo grew overall passenger numbers by 2.2% (to just below 21.7 million), while Cape Town saw around 2% growth (just below 11 million) last year. Domestic passenger growth supported this growth at both airports. International passenger growth was flat.
Worth noting is that in December both airports showed a small decline in international passengers.
Acsa’s fastest growing airport overall was East London Airport (up more than 13%), but the Eastern Cape airport does not handle international passengers.
Commenting on King Shaka International’s performance, Hamish Erskine, CEO of Dube TradePort Special Economic Zone (SEZ), told Moneyweb that 2019 was another milestone year of strong growth for the airport.
Erskine, who is also co-chair of the Durban Direct route development initiative, added: “It’s a great achievement, especially considering that South Africa’s economic growth is below 1% currently. King Shaka International’s growth is particularly encouraging as it places the airport and adjoining Dube TradePort SEZ in a good position for greater growth when the country’s economy picks up.”
He noted that the growth on the international passenger side is a direct result of intensive collaboration as part of the Durban Direct initiative, which includes airline partners, Acsa, tourism authorities, provincial and local government, and other stakeholders.
“Since establishing this route development programme in August 2014, we have successfully secured six new routes.
“Durban is now connected to a network of over 700 destinations around the world through its current airline partners operating from King Shaka International,” he said.
“These include Emirates, British Airways, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Air Mauritius and Air Namibia among others.”
Erskine said British Airways has now been operating its London-Durban route for just over a year, and this contributed to the significant growth of international travel between KwaZulu-Natal and the UK. “The route has been doing very well with seat load factors of more than 80%. We have a long-term commitment to grow the route with British Airways and look forward to the airline operating a daily service in the near future.”
He said the current focus is to expand existing routes that operate out of Durban. “Besides room for British Airways to extend its offering, Emirates tested an additional flight on its route last year and Air Mauritius is looking at extending its service to daily flights. Qatar Airways also increased capacity on its service by putting a bigger [Airbus] A350 aircraft on their route.”
Meanwhile, Colin Naidoo, communications and corporate affairs manager for Acsa at King Shaka International, tells Moneyweb that despite SAA cancelling several flights to Durban (and other routes as part of its restructured flight schedule) this capacity will be taken up by other domestic airlines.
“We don’t think SAA’s issues will have a major impact on the airport, but we will have to wait and see when the passenger numbers come out for January and February,” he said.
“King Shaka International had a bumper December, ending off a strong year of growth. We hope this continues in the next few months ahead of the end of Acsa’s financial year-end in March and going forward.”