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Shaka bungle many causes

2010-07-08 22:54

Johannesburg - A computer system, the weather and private jets hogging parking bays were to blame for the chaos at Durban's King Shaka Airport that saw hundreds of soccer fans miss the last World Cup semi-final match, the Airports Company SA said on Thursday.

The Central Airspace Management Unit system, which controls aircraft movement into and out of airports, failed between 16:00 and 20:00 on Wednesday, which resulted in air traffic services allocating slots on a first-come, first-served basis, Acsa spokesperson Solomon Makgale said in a statement.

The system had worked "perfectly", until Wednesday.

"Private operators took advantage of the situation, in certain instances taking up slots which were not allocated to them... ."

As air traffic picked up later in the day, planes wanting to land around noon were delayed for 20 minutes due to low clouds, which affected visibility.

The consequent increase in traffic volume in the Durban airspace was so high controllers decided around 14:00 to impose airspace restrictions. This meant no Durban-bound aircraft could take off for 30 minutes.

When restrictions were lifted around 17:00, eight private aircraft operators who had landed failed to follow instructions to leave for airports in the area.

"This made it impossible for other aircraft to fly into the airport as aircraft parking bays were occupied."

150 more than usual

As a result, six scheduled flights - from SAA, Kulula and British Airways - were forced to either return to base or head for other airports, preventing about 600 passengers from getting to the Germany-Spain match at Moses Mabhida Stadium.

Acsa operations manager Themba Maseko said on a normal day, about 100 aircraft flew in to King Shaka airport. On Wednesday, there were about 250.

The pilots of private aircraft, many carrying VIPs, refused to follow set procedure of dropping off their passengers before moving to the old Durban International Airport to park.

"I am not blaming the VIPs. The people who caused the problem were the people flying the aircraft," said Maseko.

He said the pilots had started moving their aircraft when Acsa threatened to take action against them, but by then it was too late.

Acsa managing director Monhla Hlahla apologised to South Africans and fans who had wanted to see the match.

"We regret that this incident has dampened the jubilant mood in the country and stained the impeccable efforts that went into preparing and facilitating air traffic during this prestigious tournament."

Both world soccer body FIFA and the 2010 Organising Committee on Thursday washed their hands of the chaos.

LOC chairman Irvin Khoza said the body was not taking responsibility for the congestion at the airport.

FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke told a press briefing in Sandton, Johannesburg: “I want to make it clear that this problem had nothing to do with Fifa.”

Khoza added: It was not our fault. We are sorry it happened but we cannot be held responsible for aircraft not landing in Durban.”

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