WORLD ROUTES: KwaZulu-Natal Has Bold Ambitions Ahead of Event in 2015

When World Routes lands in KwaZulu-Natal in 2015 it will be the first time the global event has been held on the African continent. It is fitting that the host region is an area that fully understands the important role aviation plays in economic development and how an airport can become a driver for growth through enhanced air connectivity.

KwaZulu-Natal is home to South Africa's second largest economy and, situated on the strategically important east coast, the Province boasts two of Africa's major seaports, Durban - Africa's busiest port and leading Southern Hemisphere container terminal – and Richards Bay – South Africa's largest deep-water harbour and primary bulk commodities handling facility. It is now home to the developing Dube TradePort project, the pulsing heart of a budding aerotropolis developing around Durban's new King Shaka International Airport.

“Infrastructure is a critical component in the economic development mix,” Michael Mabuyakhulu, MEC for Economic Development and Tourism, KwaZulu-Natal, told The HUB in an interview ahead of this year’s event. “Public sector investment in appropriate infrastructure surrounding an airport – incorporating air, road and rail – provides for a multi-modal platform and becomes the draw-card for private business location or re-location. With increasing levels of business concentration, it is then possible to ensure the self-sustaining growth of such areas.”

Importantly, KwaZulu-Natal is ideally positioned as just such an economic hub, with the international airport and the region working seamlessly and in unison, within the framework of a single economic unit. The KwaZulu-Natal region is home to South Africa’s second largest provincial economy, a booming tourism sector, a burgeoning manufacturing sector, extensive farmland, world-class sporting venues and conference facilities and a rich cross-cultural legacy and sense of history.

“We live in an age of intense globalisation. The concentrated effect of the emergent global village is the realisation of vigorous world-wide competition for investment, trade, manufacturing and tourism,” said Mabuyakhulu.

Increasingly, countries around the world are competing more and more robustly for a greater slice of the market in order to help grow their economies. Regions which strive to become fast and agile places in which to do business and which display superior connectivity will most certainly attract new and additional investment, so becoming commercial success stories into the future.

“We are well aware from the vast amount of research and on-the-ground infrastructure in other parts of the world that airport areas are steadily becoming the stimulus for business. In its turn, the business community globally is coming to realise the importance and, indeed, economic benefits of locating their operations at such points of connectivity because of the access airport locations afford in terms of speed and the agility to connect with other business role-players locally, nationally and internationally,” said Mabuyakhulu.

Airports today are clearly determining the location of business and are, therefore, having a direct influence over levels of urban development. This is because in the 21st Century time has become a critical watchword. “Time is a crucial resource and may well be the fundamental difference between a company being competitive and succeeding or being uncompetitive and collapsing,” claimed Mabuyakhulu.

It is the MEC’s belief that Airports, and the regions in which they reside, “must jointly adopt a new imperative; to work together in a vital quest – the quest to achieve a common goal; that of improved economic growth, superior development and enhanced competitiveness”.

The foundations have been established in KwaZulu-Natal with the opening of King Shaka International Airport in Durban in May 2010 just ahead of the FIFA World Cup football tournament in South Africa. The facility replaced the former Durban International Airport and provided the infrastructure and capacity to meet growth aspirations. The gateway to the region forms part of a strategic investment in infrastructure as part of the multi-billion Rand Dube TradePort, where major seaport upgrades and the further development of road and rail links are occurring.

“Critical to the success of any aerotropolis is air connectivity,” said Mabuyakhulu. “Without this the aerotropolis becomes constrained in its ability to grow tourism, create accessibility for business people, and generate export cargo volumes.” The KwaZulu-Natal provincial government has mandated Dube TradePort Corporation to aggressively pursue an air services and route development strategy.

But it is not simply about numbers, but sustainability, said Mabuyakhulu. “As important as expanding the number of destinations served is ensuring that the routes remain sustainable,” he says, using the airport’s main hub connection to the Middle East as a great example. “The daily service by Emirates Airline to Dubai has proven itself to be a successful and sustainable route resulting in an upgrade of the aircraft in 2012 to a Boeing 777 to accommodate passenger demand,” he explained.

Elsewhere, through a partnership between South African Express Airways and Dube Tradeport Corporation new regional routes to Lusaka and Harare were started in 2012 as part of an overall strategy to open up ten new destinations across the South African Development Community (SADC) over the next five years.

“The Dube TradePort Corporation has analysed the Durban passenger and air cargo markets on an ongoing basis for over 8 years and has established a clear understanding of the potential market and as a result has been actively marketing to a wide range of airlines,” said Mabuyakhulu.

“In pursuit of the provinces broader aerotropolis objectives the air services strategy will now be taken to the next level with the intention of opening up new passenger and dedicated cargo routes over the next three years, significantly increasing direct international and regional air services to and from King Shaka International Airport,” he added.

KwaZulu-Natal is of a belief that a joined-up vision can bring significant benefits to aviation development. It has strong ambitions for development. “KwaZulu-Natal is ideally positioned as just such an economic hub, with the international airport and the region working seamlessly and in unison, within the framework of a single economic unit,” said Mabuyakhulu.

The region is blessed with relatively undeveloped land in the vicinity of the airport, with approximately 70 per cent of the land within a 15km radius of Dube TradePort being undeveloped, or under sugar cane cultivation. “Given the Greenfield nature of the central aerotropolis site, we of the Provincial Government have been quick to seize the opportunity to develop and build the foundation for an aerotropolis correctly, with available land being developed in a planned and systematic manner,” noted Mabuyakhulu.

“The Aerotropolis region will create, into the future, a world-class physical and operational environment designed to attract trade, investment and additional new infrastructure, so jointly creating a highly competitive business operating environment, accelerating business efficiencies and enhancing the global supply chain, he added.

While air connectivity is ultimately the engine behind the development of an aerotropolis, KwaZulu-Natal province understands hard infrastructure is critical to building a functional and efficient region. “It has been said that the battle for air cargo is often won, or lost, on the ground,” said Michael Mabuyakhulu.

Therefore, providing an efficient, well-planned region with adequate road and rail connectivity, both for passengers as well as freight, has become critical to its development. “The public sector development of such transport infrastructure along Aerotropolis KwaZulu-Natal’s spine will result in enhanced levels of investment, so opening the door to extensive new business opportunities for the region and its people,” added the MEC.

Air carriage is also a facilitator. Carmel Nurseries is growing cut flowers within Dube AgriZone, inclusive of a recent commitment to grow the Thai Tulip – a tropical plant native to northern Thailand. The Thai Tulips grown in one of Dube AgriZone’s greenhouses were to meet a first international contract obligation. This involved the growth – to exacting standards – and export of some 30,000 flowers to Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, every week between October and March, this being the Dutch off-season.

“This international export illustrates not only the interest in developing the region and the level of demand already evident, but the ability of role players to work together for a common goal: the initiation of a climate conducive for investment, business development and product export – such as our Thai Tulips – all of which will lead to the expansion and growth of KwaZulu-Natal’s regional economy,” said Mabuyakhulu.

Richard Maslen

Richard Maslen has travelled across the globe to report on developments in the aviation sector as airlines and airports have continued to evolve and…