Airport Bio - History, Construction and Statistics

There is a long history to the location of the airport in La Mercy. Starting with what is in the name? Located on the shores of the Indian ocean, 30kms north of the port city of Durban, the town name La Mercy is an embellishment of the French language phrase La Mer meaning the sea, conjured up by the Mauritian sugar baron original owners of the land, the De Chazal family.

La Mercy town is now a residential sea side area settled from the 1960’s onwards and now home to approximately 450 households. Homes range from beachfront apartments to palatial splendor on large stands. The airport is located some 5kms inland from here.
The airport project has been on and off since the 1960’s, too, when the projected constraints of the current Durban international airport, to the south of Durban, were forecast. The government commissioned designs for the new airport in the late 1960’s and expropriated some 2000 hectares of former agricultural land for the purpose.

In 1973 construction of the new airport was initiated and by 1975 earthworks and a storm water drainage system to the value of R320 million were completed. However, in 1982 construction was suspended because of slow economic growth. The expropriated land was leased back to Sugar baron giants Tongaat Hulett for continued agricultural use and a local Micro light club made use of the grassed over runway.
In November 1994, just months after the first democratic election in South Africa, the then KwaZulu Natal Provincial Minister for Economics and Tourism, Mr. Jacob Zuma, announced at a conference in London, UK, that an international airport would be built at La Mercy near Durban. The announcement was applauded in newspaper editorials for casting aside years of official vacillation and stalemate but transport officials and the then National Transport Minister were unaware that the decision had been made.

Cabinet gave final approval to the completion of the new airport at La Mercy in 2002 and Mr Zuma is now President of the Republic.
A bird species, the barn swallow or hirundo rustica, which was threatened by the planned construction of the new airport at La Mercy, in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), will now be protected. About five million barn swallows migrate from Europe and roost in the Mt Moreland reed bed every European winter, as the reed bed is the only suitable roosting spot for these birds in the KZN area.

However, the reed bed is situated south-west of the planned development and is aligned with the planned flight path for aircraft at the airport. Bird conservation organisation, BirdLife South Africa, together with a number of other South African and European stakeholders, has campaigned against the planned airport and its possible negative impact on the reed bed, for about a year and a half.

After an initial environmental impact assessment (EIA) was conducted on the proposed development, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism approved the development, provided certain conditions were met. One of these conditions was that flight schedules have to be planned around the flight times of the swallows.

Construction of King Shaka International Airport

King Shaka International Airport at La Mercy, north of Durban, was completed and opened for business on 1st May 2010, a few weeks prior to the FIFA Football World Cup 2010 opened.
Image showing King Shaka International Airport under construction
Development Overview:

• Runway length 3,700m to accommodate largest design aircraft 
• 7.5 million passengers per annum
• Ultimate capacity 45 million passengers 2060
• 30 Code C aircraft parking bays (12 Air Bridges)
• 4 Code F aircraft parking bays
• 6,500 vehicle parking bays
• Air Traffic control facilities
• Aviation Fuel Farm
• Waste water treatment plant
• Cargo Facility - Dube TradePort
• Road Network and Interchange
• Airport Maintenance support buildings and facilities
• Terminal area 103,000 square meters
• Support Zone,Trade Zone and Agri Zone

Passenger Statistics

Year Number of Passengers Change (%)
2010/2011 4,873,571 no data
2011/2012 5,040,094 +3.8
2012/2013 4,668,467 -7.6
2013/2014 4,465,088
-4.4
2012/2013 4,524,894 +0.8
It has been reported that the nature of this project has become a catalyst of major economic growth for the province of KZN and the country and that it has and should create about 150,000 to 200,000 jobs directly and indirectly. A growth plan is in place for expansion up to the year 2060.

Airport History and Conception