Swaziland’s King Mswati III will continue to use the Matsapha Airport for his private jet, even though his subjects have been forced to use a newly-opened airport in a wilderness 70 km away.
Matsapha, which is close to both the kingdom’s capital Mbabane and the main commercial city, Manzini, has been closed to commercial aircraft and passengers wanting to fly out of Swaziland must use the King Mswati III Airport, formerly known as Sikhuphe.
The Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, reported Swaziland Airlink General Manager Teddy Mavuso saying that Matsapha would be closed to commercial aircraft and would be used by the King and the Swazi Army.
This was said on Tuesday (30 September 2014) when the first commercial flight took off. It was made by Swaziland Airlink, a company controlled by the Swazi Government. It is the only airline that uses the new airport that was opened in March 2014.
The airport has cost at least E3 billion (US$300 million) so far to build and is widely regarded outside of Swaziland as a vanity project for the king. Most of the money to build it came from the Swazi taxpayer, even though seven in ten of King Mswati’s subjects live in abject poverty with incomes of less than US$2 a day.
No independent study on the need for Sikhuphe Airport was ever undertaken and the main impetus behind its construction has been King Mswati. He believes the airport will lend credibility to his dream to make Swaziland a ‘First World’ nation by 2022.
After the official opening of the airport on 7 March 2014, Solomon Dube, Director of the Swaziland Civil Aviation Authority (SWACAA), told local media Swazi Airlink had specifically asked not to operate from the airport for now.
An independent report predicted the airline could go out of business because it would not attract passengers. The airport itself needs an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 passengers a year to break even. Matsapha reportedly had 70,000 passengers a year.
The Observer reported that on the first day of operations the second shuttle bus of the day from Manzini to the airport carried only one passenger.
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