Air events help ‘market airports’

2013-08-16 00:00

THE Zululand Race of Champions at Ulundi airport days ago was part of a series of air events that over the last two years has included 13 air shows at KwaZulu-Natal regional airports, and will see another eight shows and a Red Bull Air Race-style pylon race at Durban’s North Beach next year.

The Zululand Race of Champions tested the navigation skills of 48 pilots from across the country and further afield, who had to forego GPS and use old-fashioned navigating skills and paper maps to follow an approximate 200 nautical mile course over two days. The race attracted a number of top business people.

The man behind the air series idea, Clive Coetzee, general manager of Infrastructure Management and Economic Services at KZN Treasury, saidthe aim was also to bring people to these areas.

He said the KZN provincial Treasury had invested R90 million in a number of airports in the region over three years and had helped upgrade airports at Pietermaritzburg, Richards Bay, Ulundi and Margate.

The Treasury was also supporting municipalities to upgrade and develop their airports, including the Mkuze, Vryheid, Dundee, Ladysmith and Newcastle airports.

“These air events are the best way to market these airports and get people to make use of the improvements,” Coetzee said.

“The nice thing about the air race is that it doesn’t just cover this [Ulundi] area … we made it run specifically over certain towns,” he said.

Participants were set waypoints at towns like Pongola, Dundee, Newcastle and Mkuze, over which they needed to pass at quite low altitude.

It also likely sparked the imagination of locals in these relatively isolated areas. “Imagine standing in the street [in one of these small towns] and suddenly 60 or 70 planes come flying overhead,” said Coetzee.

Some aircraft had Go-Pro cameras fitted in the cockpits to capture the action and SuperSport filmed the event for airing on TV.

“This has had massive reach in the province,” said Coetzee.

He said the aim of the air shows and air races was to break down barriers to aviation by allowing spectators to walk around planes and interact with pilots and crews. Pilots and the aviation industry were also being encouraged to get involved in taking aviation to the people.

An example of this at the air race at Ulundi last week was with Federal Airlines — the official transport of the Race of Champions development team — which took six local high school pupils who had excelled in maths, science and geography, on its aircraft in the race. The pupils were tasked with the navigation of the route while the Federal Airlines aircraft competed in the race.

One of the pupils, Minenhle Mkhize, admitted that for all six pupils, this was the first time they had flown in a plane.

Another admitted that “after this experience, I think a career in aviation is something I want to seriously consider”.

“If we can get kids interested in aviation, by definition we will get them interested in maths and science and geography, scarce skills we need in the country,” Coetzee said.

Federal Airlines director of special projects, Carl Trieloff said the airline was planning a training programme for newly qualified commercial pilots that will help them gain experience in the industry.

Ina Cronje, MEC for Finance said the improvements to the airports had made a massive difference and the terminal in Pietermaritzburg was now also being upgraded to handle the increased traffic.

Cronje said the air shuttle service between Virginia Airport, Pietermaritzburg and Ulundi for government officials, business people and tourists had proved a big convenience. The route is a partnership between the Zululand District Municipality and Federal Airlines, and has been offering daily flights for the past year.

A new route that incorporated O.R. Tambo was being developed.

“A visit to Ulundi is now just a day trip,” said Cronje, who flew to the air race on the Federal Airlines daily flight in the morning with her family, visited the nearby Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, and returned home later that afternoon.

Another series of air show tours to KZN airports is planned for next year, the last year the department would ideally sponsor this air tour series.

“We desperately need to get private funding for this,” he said, “We [Treasury] can’t keep funding this.”

The investment in KZN’s airports, says Coetzee, all ties into Aerotropolis: KZN, an airport city and major trade and business hub planned by the Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DEDT), which has Dube TradePort and King Shaka International Airport at its heart.

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