Construction on the King Shaka International Airport, which will replace the existing Durban International Airport, will continue full-steam ahead, Transport Minister Jeff Radebe said on Friday, at the official sod-turning event, at La Mercy, north of Durban.

Questions had been raised over whether a court application by the Indiza consortium, led by Grinaker-LTA, which is challenging the tender procedures in the awarding of the R6,8-billion contract to a consortium led by rival Group Five, could delay the project.

Radebe told Engineering News Online that, as far as government was concerned, the contract was fairly awarded to the Illembe consortium, and that the project would be completed in time for the FIFA soccer World Cup, which will take place in South Africa in 2010.

“It is now all systems go for the construction,” he said.

In December, the Ilembe consortium, led by Group Five and Wilson Bayly Holmes-Ovcon, was named as the preferred bidder to build the King Shaka airport, which will replace the existing Durban International Airport.

The Indiza group, which included Grinaker-LTA, was reportedly not considered because it did not meet certain tender requirements.

Both consortia prequalified for the tender in April 2006.

Grinaker-LTA, however, has claimed that the correct tender processes were not followed and that its document was unfairly excluded.

Dube Tradeport, which was responsible for awarding the contract, was also unfazed by the court application.

“It is not a threat at all,” CEO Rohan Persad said.

He added that the consortium had lodged a dual application and that Dube Tradeport would defend it in court.

Some industry watchers have speculated that the Indiza legal action could be aimed at securing financial compensation, and Persad conceded that this was a possibility.

Nonetheless, he was confident that Dube would triumph in court, and that the construction of the airport would be completed in time for the World Cup, which he said was crucial.

QUICK OFF THE MARK

Construction of the facility began on August 24, immediately after Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Martinus van Schalkwyk issued a record of decision approving the project, on August 23.

“This demonstrates the urgency and seriousness with which we are endeavouring to get the country ready for 2010 and to put in place the much-need infrastructure,” Radebe said.

The airport is being built to boost passenger capacity in Durban, to cater for the World Cup and thereafter, as well as to allow bigger, new-generation aircraft, such as Airbus’s A380 superjumbo, to land in the city.

The first step of the project will include the aeronautical footprint, the King Shaka International Airport, which will include a four-million-passenger-a-year terminal, runway, air-traffic control tower, fuel farm and related infrastructure.

The second step will be the Dube trade zone, with full customs and excise facilities and bonded areas.

The new airport will be built, owned and operated by Airports Company South Africa (Acsa), while the Dube Tradeport will develop the nearby trade zone.

Radebe said that said that the port would serve as a catalyst for economic growth and job creation in the region, as it would enable local exporters to effectively tap into global markets.

“The work we are doing here should bury whatever doubts that might have still existed about our state of readiness for hosting the 2010 soccer world cup.”

Acsa MD Monhla Hlahla said that the State-owned company was now well positioned to move with speed in the development of the new airport.