While passenger airliner Comair's offer to buy the old Durban International Airport (DIA) was turned down last year, State-owned freight logistics group Transnet has confirmed with Engineering News Online that it is still considering converting the property into a seaport.
Spokesperson John Dludlu stresses that, while the conversion had not been formally incorporated into the company's medium-term planning, it was a possibility further down the line.
"Transnet regards it as a strategic site for both South Africa and the City of Durban and we have recommended to government that the site be kept in its [government's] control and enabled for future economic development in accordance with the city's plans," Dludlu explains, adding that the site could also form an important strategic role in port capacity development.
In delivering its National Infrastructure Plan to Parliament in February, capital projects executive Moira Moses showed a series of slides laying out how Transnet and the eThekwini municipality could transform the airport into a port, handling mainly containers.
This could then be integrated with the existing port into a long-term port, rail, road and land-use plan, with the DIA site locate about 10 km south of the existing harbour.
The Sapref refinery lies in between the airport and the ocean, which might prove troublesome for any conversion. But Transnet believes that it can still build a new harbour on the other side of the fuel plant, which would act as a breakwater.
The new harbour could have 379 ha dedicated to containers, which is about double the capacity of the existing Durban port.
The converted airport could also have 28 ha dedicated to motor vehicles.
Dludlu gives no indication as to when Transnet and eThekwini might look at developing the old airport. It is also unclear how much such a project would cost.
The last passengers will exit the international arrivals section at the DIA at the end of April, when all of Durban's commercial and international air traffic will shift to the new R6,7-billion King Shaka International Airport at La Mercy, north of Umhlanga.