THE final part of the R40 million upgrade to Pietermaritzburg Airport was officially unveiled last night. At the opening of the airport’s new terminal building and apron, built at a cost of R10 million, Finance MEC Ina Cronjé said that the investment has already paid off. “We now have a financially viable airport,” said Cronje, adding that the upgrading of the airport will add to the economic development and growth of Pietermaritzburg. The investment in the airport is by the provincial government through KZN Treasury. Other upgrades to the airport since 2011 have included widening and strengthening of the runway, and upgrading of the airport’s navigation system. Cronjé reported that as a result of the upgrades, passenger numbers had almost doubled from a monthly average of around 5 000 in 2009 to about 9 200 per month currently, with a record 10 400 passengers passing through the airport in October this year. “The net revenue of the airport has more than doubled from about R2,7 million in 2009 to R5,5 million this year,” said Cronjé. “Cash flow had increased from a deficit of R3 million in 2009 to a surplus of R1 million this year. After three years of cumulative losses, the cumulative deficit was completely wiped out in September 2013.” While the full R40 million investment injected into the airport has now been expended, Cronjé pointed out that this was not the end. “The Durban University of Technology has put a proposal on the table to develop an aviation academy at the airport,” she announced, “and we have also received a proposal for the establishment of an innovation and technology hub to be built around an aviation cluster at the airport, supported by the National Department of Science and Technology, and the Technology Innovation Agency.” The development is just one the initiatives and developments supported by the KZN Provincial Treasury at 11 regional airports, totalling an amount of R81 million in direct funding. R30 million has been invested in Ulundi Airport, and a route between Ulundi and O.R. Tambo airports is now in operation. This has already saved government an estimated R2 million in travel costs over the past 17 months, said Cronjé, adding that they were looking at ways to further encourage flying over driving by government employees travelling to and from Ulundi. Carl Trieloff, director of special operations at Federal Airlines, which along with Airlink and SA Express is one of the three airlines now based at Pietermaritzburg Airport, said they had recently amended their schedule to include O.R. Tambo in their daily offering. Airlink and SA Express both offer direct flights between Pietermaritzburg and Johannesburg too. Airlink’s CEO and MD Rodger Foster told The Witness: “We owe our thanks to the people of Pietermaritzburg. Airlink was born in Pietermaritzburg with roots that go back to 1969. This is our customer base that has seen us grow to a company with a R2,2 billion turnover today.” SA Express started flying out of Pietermaritzburg just over a month ago with the introduction of a Pietermaritzburg-Johannesburg route. CEO Inati Ntshanga said Pietermaritzburg deserved to be proud of the improvements to the airport, which he said are “world class”.