The R56-million upgrade of the Mthatha airport, in the Eastern Cape, would be completed by May next year, in time for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Eastern Cape Transport, Safety and Liaison MEC Ghishma Barry reported on Friday. Local construction companies Tikanedywili Construction, Makole Business Enterprise, the Lodumo/Alamo Project joint venture and Intellect Construction started work on the project a few weeks ago, the MEC said

The project included: the building of a temporary relocation structure, a terminal building upgrade, civil works and fencing. It formed part of the province’s Blue Skyway aviation strategy, which aimed to improve the potential of the Bhisho and Mthatha airports, as well as to bring new life to rural airstrips within the province. A R78-million upgrade at the Bhisho airport had been completed in August last year.

The province was also expecting the Mthatha Airport’s upgrade to contribute to tourism in the region, particularly during the World Cup event. Meanwhile, the transport department pointed out that the upgrade to the airstrip to include lighting for night flights had been completed. The South African Civil Aviation Authority had inspected the lighting and the province was now awaiting the issuing of a night rating for the airport.

Daily Air Link flights from Johannesburg and other small aircraft currently used the airport during the day. Before the upgrade, the airport had only been operating at 30% of its capacity and the Eastern Cape was eager to link the airport with other larger cities, including Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban, in the future. “We would like to have an airline between Cape Town and Mthatha via Bhisho. An important goal is to link Port Elizabeth to Mthatha via Bhisho with the service geared for faster movement between these three areas,” Barry said.

Edited by: Mariaan Webb