King Shaka hits record 5.5m passengers as direct Durban-London route plans continue


Johannesburg - Durban’s King Shaka International Airport topped the 5.5 million-passenger mark last year, in a record year boosted by excellent domestic passenger growth and a consolidation in international numbers. The milestone means the airport has increased passenger numbers by over a million since opening in May 2010.

According to  Airports Company of South Africa stats, King Shaka posted a 6.4% growth in passengers overall, which saw it handle over 5,52 million passengers. This was the highest passenger growth amongst SA’s three major international airports in percentage terms. Cape Town saw more than 10.6 million passengers and grew by 6%, while Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International posted a 2.2% increase, with over 21 million passengers last year.

Durban-London route ratcheted up a gear

The news of King Shaka’s growth comes as plans to secure a Durban-London route ratcheted up a gear last week, as KwaZulu-Natal provincial government authorities met British Airways’ (BA) route planning bosses in Durban. Provincial authorities, including Dube Trade Port, have been canvassing BA and other international airlines to introduce a London-Durban route for years.

“King Shaka was the fastest growing airport amongst SA’s three major cities last year. Surpassing the 5.5 million passenger mark was a big milestone as it’s the highest number of passengers we’ve ever handled in Durban,” says Terence Delomoney, Acsa’s general manager of King Shaka International.

“We had good growth despite the weak economic environment in SA. The most dynamic growth came on the domestic passenger side last year, with the market being stimulated by airlines that introduced new routes from Durban. International passengers numbers continued to grow, on the back of a 76% increase in international seat capacity at King Shaka in the last three years,” he added.

SEE: SA Travel Trends: Durban and Cape Town lead air passenger growth ahead of festive season

With air travel expected to grow significantly in Africa over coming years and positive sentiments on the SA economy, Delomoney says Acsa anticipated greater growth in the next few years.

“The growth of passenger numbers at airports is generally double that of a country’s economic growth, based on international benchmarks. Therefore, that’s our expectations going forward… Yes, it does seem conservative considering the passenger growth that we have been having. Greater growth is always a positive thing, as the performance of airports is a good indicator of economic prospects,” he says.

'5.5 million mark is incredibly encouraging'

King Shaka International’s growth since opening just before the 2010 FIFA World Cup, has silenced many naysayers and opponents to its development, who said at the time it would become a while elephant. Back in 2005, Dube Trade Port predicted the new airport would handle five million passengers as a ‘based case’ by 2019. The airport surpassed this mark in 2016.

Giving an indication of how significantly the airport’s passenger numbers have grown, Delomoney says, “When the old Durban International Airport closed in 2010, we were handling around 4.4 million passengers, and the same flight schedule was relocated to King Shaka. Today, passenger numbers are over the 5.5 million mark and we have several international airlines operating from King Shaka, including Emirates, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Air Mauritius and Air Namibia.”

SEE: FlySafair's new flights set to boost development in Durban, PE and East London

Dube TradePort CEO, Hamish Erskine says, “King Shaka topping the 5.5 million mark is incredibly encouraging, considering the airport is only seven years old and in the context of SA’s flat GDP in 2017. While domestic growth has been a major contributor, international passenger numbers have gone from virtually nothing in 2008, to over 363,000 passengers last year. We believe the domestic passenger growth has also been fueled by international tourists flying to Durban via Johannesburg.”

Erskine added, “This is significant growth for a destination like Durban in terms of international passengers flying direct. It came off the back of excellent international growth of 27% in 2015/2016. This period saw several new international airlines establish routes to Durban, following the city’s hosting of the Airports Council International (ACI) Africa Conference and World Routes summit. These events had a huge impact in positioning KZN in the international arena as a destination of choice.”

Ethiopian Airlines and Air Seychelles cut Durban flights

He conceded that international passenger growth out of King Shaka slowed in 2017, with Ethiopian Airlines and Air Seychelles dropping its international flights to Durban. But said, this was due to outside factors around the availability of planes and operational reasons.

“We are working with Ethiopian Airlines on a plan to see how best to reintroduce a seasonal service between Addis Ababa and Durban. Other positive signs, include Air Mauritius announcing that it will add a fourth weekly flight on its Durban route from April; and, Qatar Airways operating a bigger Boeing 777-330ER to Doha from March. Qatar have four weekly flights to Durban and the bigger aircraft will see an additional 416 weekly seats added to the route.”

Erskine was tight-lipped about discussions with BA for a London route. He offered no comment on what impact Durban losing hosting rights to the 2022 Commonwealth Games would have on the timeline of securing a London route. Besides BA, upstart Norwegian Airlines are said to be interested in establishing a London-Durban route.

“London is still the priority route for Durban and Durban Direct have been speaking to a number of airlines to operate the route. Our research shows that, conservatively, roughly 100,000 passengers travel between Durban and the United Kingdom annually. We would love for London to start, even if it is not a daily service. But, first prize would be a large legacy or network carrier with international connections,” he says.

“Durban Direct is KwaZulu-Natal’s route development committee, comprised of various public sector entities, departments and municipalities. Durban Direct has worked tirelessly for the last few years in marketing KwaZulu-Natal as both a tourism and business destination, as well as highlighting the largely untapped demand for direct flights from Durban into local, regional and international destinations,” added Erskine.

He says the Far East was another important route Durban Direct was targeting in the medium term, with major hubs like Singapore and Hong Kong seen as ideal.

“There is a strong untapped market in Asia. With major international developers like Malaysian-based UEM Sunrise investing in the Durban Point, we believe the market will grow if we get the product right. Singapore Airlines was the last international airline to pull out of Durban’s old airport in 2009. They had a tag flight via Joburg, so the market is there and can be stimulated again. Alternatively, a route from Durban to Hong Kong would be great, considering how huge the Chinese market is,” he says.

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