Go Back  PPRuNe Forums > PPRuNe Worldwide > African Aviation
Reload this Page >

The Airport that has not taken off ...

African Aviation Regional issues that affect the numerous pilots who work in this area of the world.

The Airport that has not taken off ...

Old 4th Sep 2005, 13:02
  #1 (permalink)  
Thread Starter
Join Date: Sep 1999
Location: Out there somewhere ...
Posts: 3,816
Arrow The Airport that has not taken off ...

WITH an air-conditioned office, 28 staff and a R786 000-a-year budget, the Bhisho Airport manager, Maki Ndingaye, is missing only one thing: aeroplanes.

Not one single scheduled commercial or public flight has arrived at his airport in more than 10 years, since Ciskei International Airlines collapsed. His staff, especially the four-man team in the 30m-high air control tower, are bored.

“They wait and wait and wait and wait. It’s terrible,” Ndingaye said this week from his office overlooking the 2.4km runway outside King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape.

“But they must stay there [in the air traffic control tower], otherwise it’s misconduct. They play cards,” said Ndingaye.

The bizarre ghost airport — once the “international gateway” to the Ciskei — has again sparked controversy in the cash-strapped Eastern Cape, where the Transport Department is accused of wasting millions on a white elephant investment.

When the Sunday Times visited the sprawling airport complex this week, the administrative staff were at their desks, staring out of the tinted-glass windows. The only thing on the runway was a large crow, pecking at a dead lizard. Outside the once grand “International” arrivals hall, swallows were nesting in the rafters next to the main entrance. The hall, inside, remains virtually untouched since the day it was built in 1988. Large X-ray machines, still functional, stand unplugged next to padlocked sliding doors that have started leaking rainwater. A neat row of check-out counters stands empty. A dusty departures board advertises a flight from Durban to George.

“The equipment still works,” said Ndingaye. “To me, if I was in charge, I’d make the place work.” He said the facility even had a trained emergency fire crew at the ready. “They are very frustrated,” said Ndingaye.

He said the airport was sometimes used by jets ferrying senior politicians such as the President, the deputy president and the premier.

In a written answer to questions raised in the Eastern Cape provincial legislature last month, the Transport MEC, Thobile Mhlahlo, confirmed there were no scheduled flights using the airport. “It’s only private and chartered aircraft that make use of this airport and very occasionally,” said Mhlahlo.

He said the Department of Transport was mandated to restructure the airport via a public-private partnership. The department had called for tenders, said Mhlahlo.

“The response was positive. However, none of them could be awarded the tender due to the fact that all had costed their proposals well beyond what the department could afford.”

The Democratic Alliance spokesman for Transport and Public Works in the Eastern Cape, Pine Pienaar, described the airport situation as “spooky”.

“The staff are just sitting there doing nothing. They’ve got new desks and new computers but there’s nothing for them to do.

“At least get rid of it or subsidise it for somebody else to take over,” said Pienaar.

Mhlahlo said: “The Department of Transport staff, which cannot claim any specialised expertise in airport management, manages the airport and there are no scheduled flights.

“The airport is regarded highly in terms of airport ratings and it has acquired an international classification because of the state of the infrastructure. Its airstrip can accommodate a Boeing 747.”

Mhlahlo said there was growing interest in the facility from various individuals, institutions and companies.

“The executive council has resolved that this airport should be restructured along the public-private partnership line,” he said.

The Provincial Finance MEC, Billy Nel, hoped the airport could be utilised: “It’s costing us and we’re wasting money. We need to be inventive. The government should throw it in as a freebie for a year or two to get investment there,” said Nel, adding that the provincial government was also trying to breathe new life into Dimbaza — another ambitious apartheid-era development outside Bhisho.

Bhisho Airport, once known as “Sebe’s Folly”, was opened by the former Ciskei President, Lennox Sebe, in February 1988 to fulfil the homeland’s dream of having a gateway to the world.

Sebe bought two ageing passenger jets at huge expense: a 146-seater Convair 990 and a 46-seater Convair 880. The 46-seater now sits on Billy Nel’s tennis court and has been converted into a restaurant. Said Nel: “A lot of people after a few drinks want me to start the engines.”

Missing Link :P
Gunship is offline  
Old 4th Sep 2005, 13:32
  #2 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 4,195
They showed a picture of the place in the paper. Ten years with no planes?? I mean I have heard of missing a flight or two.....
Guns you guys ought to arrange a big fly in and piss up there.
B Sousa is offline  
Old 4th Sep 2005, 16:52
  #3 (permalink)  
Thread Starter
Join Date: Sep 1999
Location: Out there somewhere ...
Posts: 3,816

I seem to remember that we ran a Airwing at PR Mphephu airport with 3 choppers, a Citation and a Casa 212 with 28 staff including cleaners , tea lady the lot.

We flew 1200 to 2000 hrs per year.

Accross the runway was the PR Mphephu staff - similar to the above except their was a Cessna of sorts with a long nose that landed there a few times a week.

The cleaning staff alone was 50 ... 4 ATC's ...

Eischhh Africa ...
Gunship is offline  
Old 4th Sep 2005, 20:19
  #4 (permalink)  
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Brisbane
Posts: 203
This is Africa...

A pal of mine in the glass industry told me of the very expensive high specification laminated reflective glass used on the sides of the terminal building.

There were frequent unexplained failures of the glass; careful investigations by the manufacturers revealed nothing wrong with the specifcations or installation method.

Eventually, one of the investiagtors saw what was happening - a Billy Goat was charging its reflection in the glass and cracking it!
james ozzie is offline  
Old 5th Sep 2005, 08:42
  #5 (permalink)  
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: South Africa
Posts: 116
Landed there some time back (more than 10 years ago) in a B58 and other than 2 aircraft bought by the Ciskei Govt (I believe) that had only been flown by little old ladies on Sundays....and never flew again, we were the only aircraft on the ramp. Very nice terminal........ complete with cleaning and security staff....very nice car park....1 car in it..... the guy who came to pick us up......now thats what you call a national asset.

Not sure if its urban legend or not but I understand the airport was deliverd complete with snow plough....it seems the (non SA) construction managers KNEW that all airports need a snow plough........?
Balmy is offline  
Old 5th Sep 2005, 10:08
  #6 (permalink)  
Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: South Africa
Posts: 112
Truthfully though who would want to fly to Bisho when you have East London a few miles to the east Some of my students have flown in there before, but just for touch and goes.

They should of spend the money on constructing a parallel rwy at CT.
Exhaust Manifold is offline  
Old 5th Sep 2005, 12:07
  #7 (permalink)  
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: close to the sun
Posts: 131
"Ciskei's the limit", so the logo read on Ciskei'International Airline's Stationary.

Here's some history for you!

The airport was constructed in 1981 by Kunard Brothers from East London under the supervision of an American called Gary Morgan. Those boys made big loot. I mean a R28 million contract for 1981 was really something big.

President Lennox Sebe desperately wanted an airline. Particularly a jet service which could compete with SAA out of East London, and Transkei Airways out of Umtata. He simply had to be better than the Matanzimas who were operating a couple of King Airs and a HS 748 with "Highway Hennie". believe it or not, as one of the Commanders. Other Captain's included a really great guy called Tom Lawless. Yes, the good old days!

Negotiations started with John Morrison & Magnum Airlines, and Magnum's MD, Ms. Jenny Nathanson got seriously involved, but they could not provide a jet service, and Sebe wanted a jet. "A fast one". At a serious meeting held at the Presidential Office during the late part of May1987, Ms. Nathanson was informed that Magnum had no chance, and she left the meeting in tears.

Then in June 1987 came along the greatest conman of all times. (Yes, worse than "Conman Andrews") Another Yank, called John Robinson, who allegedly owned an Airline in Kenya called Africa International Airlines operating 5 Cargo Boeing 707's out of Nairobi. Sadly they did not exist, but "Ol President Lennox Sebe" believed every word Robinson told him, and in no time Robinson persuaded Sebe to part with a couple of million rands, and a 50/50 partnership was formed with Robinson having to supply the aircraft for the newly established Ciskei International (nogal) Airlines.

As Robinson had nothing and no credibility, (He lived at the Rand Club in JHB on credit card credit, and had an address at the World Trade Centre in London with no phone) he could'nt lease a decent airplane, so he called up a mate of his in the States (Denver), and together they took an old Convair 880 out of storage in the desert, serviced it a bit, flew it to Miami where it underwent another inspection, and eventually arrived in SA with an expired C of A, registered as N880C. No good for the transport of passengers though, as it was kitted out as a VIP transporter with double beds and golden taps, and as the story goes, once flew John Denver & Jefferson Airplane around the USA to their music concerts. An absolute dud for the newly formed Ciskei International Airways.

During the official opening of the airport, the Ciskei-ans were told to arrive at the airport "en masse" to welcome the "new airplane" and support their President, but unfortunately, the airplane never arrived. The Airline's directors, Laurie Kempster (Bean Counter Ex Magnum Airlines) Verity Wright (PRO Ex Magnum Airlines) & John Robinson were pacing up and down the terminal looking very sheepish and tried to hide away from a very persistent TV journalist who demanded to know where the airplane was.

So the opening of the airport turned into a fiasco with no airplane, which left Sebe furious. As the CofA had expired on the Convair 880, it was clear that that airplane would never fly. President Sebe kept on putting pressure on John Robinson and his crew to get the airline going, and eventually another Convair was leased from the USA. This time a Convair 990 with 120 pax seats. Things looked better, and Sebe was convinced that now they were on to something a great deal better!

The only problem was that it was also on the N register, and due to the inability of Robinson and his cronies to facilitate an operating license in terms of the bi-lateral agreements between SA & the Ciskei at the time, the machine never flew. Sebe kept on pumping money into a dead horse, and overnight Robinson & his cronies took what was left in the bank and ducked. So Ciskei International Airways, sadly came to its end.

The Convair 990 was eventually claimed by its legal owner in the USA, and was sold to a Spanish Operator, Spantex, which was really the only serious commercial operator of the Convairs globally. Spantex eventually also went broke.

For the rest, the 880 remained on the apron for about 8 years, running up huge parking fees, and eventually Billy Nel, an East London businessman, now MEC for Finance in the Eastern Cape Government, bought it for R1.00 and had it removed to his resort on the banks of the Bonza Bay River in East London where it remains to this day serving as a tea room.

The whereabouts of John Robinson these days are unknown. The last I heard, he was wanted by a number of Government people for questioning. The other former Board Directors, have their own businesses. One is in the liquer industry, and the other owns and operates a Travel Agency.

I hope they send people to the beautiful coastal resorts of the Eastern Cape.
alwaysinverted is offline  
Old 5th Sep 2005, 13:18
  #8 (permalink)  
Thread Starter
Join Date: Sep 1999
Location: Out there somewhere ...
Posts: 3,816

What a fairytale ending ...

Tx for that alwaysinverted
Gunship is offline  
Old 5th Sep 2005, 13:42
  #9 (permalink)  
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: South Africa
Posts: 116
"aaisch" unuther dey like yesterday
Balmy is offline  
Old 5th Sep 2005, 15:05
  #10 (permalink)  
Está servira para distraerle.
Join Date: Jan 2002
Location: In a perambulator.
Posts: 4

Yes, the good old days. Such fun - and it was! Banging an Islander up and down the wild coast, lobsters and ladies every night, until some poor unfortunate crashed two within three weeks, Islanders that is!
Captain Lawless, Chief Pilot, he could call black white and get away with it. Captain Kangaroo (Highway Hennie?) - revenge of the stinkbombs one cold wintry morning over the great mountains of Lesotho. Then there was little DeeJay who had to stand up in the cockpit to fly when the going got rough and the tough got going, which is what Captain Fellatio always used to do on nightstops. Other characters included 'Broken Glass' as in 'crawl over to get to her' and the lugubrious Bulldog Clapper, ground operations contoller extraordinaire.
Someday we really ought to have a South African defunct airways reunion. We could call ourselves the 'Archaeopteryx Aviation Association' and meet once a year at the TAC (if that still stands).
Any takers on that one, a reminiscence of recent regional flight experience before political correctness and women intruded into the workplace of real time professional aviators.?
cavortingcheetah is offline  

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Terms of Service - Do Not Sell My Personal Information -

Copyright © 2021 MH Sub I, LLC dba Internet Brands. All rights reserved. Use of this site indicates your consent to the Terms of Use.