The national carrier South African Airways reinstated the missing link in the “Golden Triangle” when flight SA 531 touched down at 8.25am in Durban (Friday 4 March), signalling an anticipated massive boost for tourism in KwaZulu-Natal.
Johannesburg and Cape Town are the two other points of the triangle which enables the flow of trade and commerce – and movement of tourists – throughout the country.
It was a welcome sight after many months of absence when the Airbus with its tail reflecting the colours of South Africa’s national flag, was warmly welcomed at Durban’s King Shaka International Airport with a special water cannon salute and resounding applause from passengers and airport staff.
This marked SAA’s re-introduction of a three-times daily return service from Johannesburg to Durban. The airline hasn’t operated any commercial flights to Durban since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. From that period until September 2020, the airline operated cargo and repatriation flights but was forced to cease all operations due to financial problems.
Ravi Pillay, KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, said the resumption of flights to Durban “has lifted our spirits”.
“This is part of a groundswell of positive things happening in KwaZulu-Natal and the country as a whole after a triple whammy of the economic recession, the Covid-19 pandemic and the July 2021 unrest.
“Tourism contributes 10 percent to the KwaZulu-Natal economy. The availability of airlines is critical to that function.”
He said a R72-million airport investment project in Mkuze will target international tourists who will be spoilt for choice, given the many private game reserves and other tourist attractions in the area.
“SAA has an important role to play as an enabler for tourism which is a key economic driver, especially because of the number of jobs that are created.
“It was a great feeling to witness SAA flying into Durban again. The airport was filled with well-wishers who appeared to be waiting to warmly welcome a fondly-missed relative.
“SAA’s return to Durban bodes well for tourism. We keenly await opening of other direct SAA flights into Durban, such as Cape Town and other regions.
“With the pandemic phase of COVID-19 appearing to be ending, we can again expect to see volumes of tourists coming through the arrivals hall at King Shaka International Airport,” said Mr Pillay.
SAA Interim CEO, Thomas Kgokolo said the Johannesburg-Durban route was one of the busiest in South Africa and the national carrier had been guided by data in finding the right time to make the decision.