Although most foreign airlines are so far declining to fly to Durban’s King Shaka International Airport, preferring to take Durban-bound passengers to Johannesburg from where they transfer to local flights, Emirates is boosting its capacity on the route “in response to strong demand”.
The Dubai-based airline announced yesterday that it would substitute a larger, 354-seat Boeing 777-Extended Range aircraft for the Airbus A330-200 it has been using on the route, increasing capacity by almost 30 percent.
So far the only other international airline flying to Durban is Air Mauritius, although British Airways (BA) has regularly investigated the market. BA/Comair suggested extending its BA franchise for southern Africa to serve the route last year, but was advised against it after BA carried out a feasibility study.
However, Jean-luc Grillet, Emirates senior vice-president for commercial operations in Africa, said yesterday that it had carried more than 165 000 passengers between Durban and its home airport of Dubai since October 2009, with average passenger loads of 83 percent. It has also carried more than 5 240 tons of high value export cargo on the route.
“We have experienced positive growth which we attribute to a growing recognition of this city as a popular tourist destination and one of the key trading hubs in South Africa,” Grillet said.
Emirates was the first airline from the Persian Gulf to fly into South Africa. After starting a daily service from Johannesburg in 1995, it expanded to Cape Town, from where it flies twice a day. It is also expanding throughout Africa, currently serving 20 passenger and cargo destinations on the continent.
Dubai has been developed as a hub airport serving destinations worldwide including Europe, North and South America and the Far East. It opened the first branch of Emirates Holidays outside Dubai in Johannesburg last year, enabling passengers and tour operators to book flights and accommodation to any of its destinations.
SAA views its expansion as a threat. SAA chief executive Siza Mzimela said in Parliament last year that the number of Emirates flights to South Africa meant that it was taking business from point-to-point airlines bringing passengers directly to this country.