Battle for Skukuza airport

Posted On Friday, 23 January 2009 02:00 Published by eProp Commercial Property News
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A legal battle looms over SA National Parks’ plans to reopen Skukuza Airport to commercial flights.

Property-Housing-ResidentialSANParks determined to revive airport near Kruger

Primkop airport manager opposes move

A legal battle looms over SA National Parks’ (SANParks) plans to reopen Skukuza Airport to commercial flights.

Owners SANParks closed the airport, on the doorstep of the Kruger National Park, in 2002, in an agreement with Primkop Airport Management a month before Primkop opened its new R350m Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (KMIA) 24km outside Nelspruit and 100km from Skukuza.

But growing interest in the lucrative niche market around the park has led to the agreement being challenged. A national assembly portfolio committee has written to urge SANParks to find a way to revive Skukuza Airport in time for the 2010 soccer World Cup.

“We are in the process of reopening Skukuza Airport,” says SANParks business development manager James Daniels “But it has come to our attention that we need to get clarification on the legalities of the agreement entered into with KMIA six years ago.”

Primkop MD and CEO Marius Nel confirms the company is opposing the move, but won’t elaborate.

KMIA is 90% owned by ABB Equity Ventures, a subsidiary of Swiss engineering group ABB The Mbuyane Communal Property Association owns the other 10%.

SANParks wanted to hand over to a new operator in mid-February for operations to start in March. But things are on hold because of “legal uncertainties”.

In terms of a memorandum of understanding, ABB Equity Ventures paid SANParks for five years’ projected losses when Skukuza Airport was closed. Small private aircraft still use the airport. It was assumed that by the end of five years there would be growth for both parties, says a source.

“Had SANParks gone straight to the competition commission it could have won without a doubt,” says an Mpumalanga official.

If Skukuza Airport does reopen it will function as a category 5 airport operating domestic and charter flights, with four flights a day. It would compete with KMIA only on the domestic front. Mpumalanga economic development & planning MEC Craig Padayachee says: “The reopening of the old airport will definitely complement KMIA by making it easier for those wanting to visit the province, particularly for those going straight into the Kruger area.”

Gavin Jarman, chairman of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association in Mpumalanga, says both airports should be able to operate side by side.

Sources say quite a few (small) airlines are interested in taking their business back to Skukuza Airport. Stuart Cochrane, marketing manager of British Airways Domestic, says the company is looking at the route feasibility, but has not made any firm decisions yet.

National Airlines Corporation CEO Martin Banner says: “If it reopens for scheduled flights, it will affect the charter business, but minimally''.

Last modified on Monday, 19 May 2014 15:21

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