Trials begin for planned air link to Ulundi

2011-03-01 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG businesspeople and KwaZulu-Natal government officials who drive between the city and Ulundi will soon have the option of taking a regular flight.

Zululand District Municipality, in partnership with Federal Air, hopes that regular scheduled passenger flights between the two towns will start in June.

The airline began trial trips between Pietermartizburg and Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi airports yesterday.

Media and other stakeholders were invited.

The trial trips will be concluded on Thursday.

Chief financial officers of various government departments and government leaders will be on today’s flight.

According Zululand District airport consultant Chris McLean, the aim of the trial flights is to demonstrate that travelling with Federal Air between Pietermaritzburg and Ulundi to conduct business and government work would prove to be cost-effective.

Once the scheduled passenger flights commence a ticket would cost R850 one way.

Mclean said research has shown that about 6 000 government cars travel back and forth between the two centres every month and claim R3,85 per kilometre.

Ulundi is about 300 km away from Pietermaritzburg.

Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi Airport has been relatively unused since the termination of government subsidised flights in 2003.

However, according to McLean, Federal Air commercial manager Brad Dickson and Zululand District mayor Blessed Gwala, the airport is a gateway to boosting economic growth in the historically rich Zululand District and surrounding areas.

The KZN government officially transferred the airport to the district council in 2007.

Once the trial flights are completed, discussions for the buy-in of departments will begin.

When the flight schedule commences, 80% of the 12 seat capacity will be reserved for government officials and the rest for businesspeople.

After some time, seats will be shared by tourists, government officials and businesspeople on an equal basis, said McLean.

With the flights, tourism would be boosted, said McLean, adding that Federal Air already carries tourists to destinations such as Kruger National Park.

The airport needs to be upgraded with distance measuring systems and weather devices for landing.

An upbeat Gwala, who flew to Ulundi and back on the Cessnea Grand Caravan aircraft, said the experience was exciting.

What was more thrilling, he said, was that it takes between 35 and 40 minutes from one airport to the other.

He said government will be encouraged to use flight opportunities as it will save money and create jobs.

The district municipality and Federal Air plan to have return flights from Ulundi to Durban and eventually to Johannesburg.

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