Virginia airport – fight or flight?

Private Property South Africa
Anne Schauffer

eThekwini Municipality and Virginia Airport operators have still not reached consensus on the way forward, yet plans on the City’s table are proposing their future and others.

It’s all rather confusing. eThekwini Municipality received an unsolicited proposal from Seaworld Investment Holdings (Pty) Ltd recommending the redevelopment of the Virginia Airport site into a mixed-use development, one comprising commercial, hotel, upmarket residential, offices, leisure and related developments…total capital outlay R6,1bn, not funded by the City. SeaWorld would source funding and develop a brand new airport, five times the size of Virginia Airport in Scottburgh. The City stresses that the proposal has been treated strictly in line with Supply Chain Management (SCM) provisions – only once the City receives input and comments, will a decision will taken.

Forty two years at Virginia, Daryl Mann is spokesperson for the operators, and he, like others – contrary to the City’s claims – cites the lack of meaningful consultation: “We’re continually misquoted as saying we refuse to leave. We’ve agreed repeatedly to do so, as long as there’s legitimate consultation between the City and general aviation operators, and that we reach a workable solution. The council has little understanding of general aviation, and the consultants’ feasibility study is flawed. Training might work out of Scottburgh, but it won’t for the business community which wants to use their own jet/charter an aeroplane. The city is growing northwards, and ninety nine percent of people who fly/own aeroplanes – airlines, charter, owners – do not live south of Durban. A businessman needs to fly conveniently out of an airport close to home,” says Mann. “Regarding relocation to King Shaka, there’s insufficient research to ascertain what ACSA will allow; zero development there for general aviation. The second runway for King Shaka was scheduled for 2060…forty five years time. The City can’t wait for that and, when it’s built, it’ll be because the current single runway can’t cope, not for general aviation purposes.”

At present, the Virginia Airport site does not generate rates income for the City, so relocation of the airport clears a way for the redevelopment into a facility that can generate an annual rate income for the City. Mann adds, “The city cannot quantify the value of general aviation. You don’t know whether a guy landing at Virginia airport is going to buy three blocks of beachfront flats, or an ice-cream.

“Studies worldwide confirm that a city without a viable, convenient general aviation airport, will implode. If every bit of business done by a person alighting from a plane at Virginia can’t happen, because of a lack of a general aviation airport, that business will still be done – just not in Durban. It’s critical for the City not to lose sight of the value of general aviation to business.”

This article originally appeared in Neighbourhood, Sunday Times.

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