Durban, South Africa: British Airways may consider increasing the frequency of its new three weekly direct flights between London’s Heathrow Airport and Durban’s King Shaka International Airport, a media conference heard today.

This would depend on the success of the new route, which saw the first flight landing at King Shaka International Airport early this morning.

At the media conference held at the Oyster Box Hotel, it was announced that if the Durban direct flights would be successful an assessment would be made in the next month with a view to further growing the route.

British Airways was committed to South Africa. The new London-Durban route was a great step forward and the cherry on the top, BA officials said.

The MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Sihle Zikalala and the eThekwini Mayor, Councillor Zandile Gumede, were at the airport to welcome in the inaugural 5.35am flight No BA41.

Phindile Makwakwa, the acting chief executive of Tourism KZN, said that the United Kingdom was one of the region’s best tourism markets.

“We have had a healthy increase every year but what was missing was direct access and we know that if there is direct access, there will be robust interest from tour operators,” she said.

TKZN was mounting a 24-month campaign with BA to ensure greater awareness of the new route and KZN, she added.

The MEC said the province had set itself a target of attracting 3.4 million international visitors by 2030 and the new route gave “great impetus to our prospects of reaching this target”.

“The existing economic and cultural ties between our peoples, will be a major catalyst in the escalation of passenger numbers between the UK and KZN.

“We are inspired that this new development comes at the time when we are working hard to grow our tourism as we intend to clock anything between R65-billion and R98-billion over the next two years.

“The Durban-London route will play a role in us achieving this target which is expected to contribute to some 183 000 direct jobs for our people.”

The decision by BA to introduce direct, non-stop direct flights between London and Durban was a game-changer, he said.

The inaugural flight took place at a time when the KZN government was implementing the Aerotropolis initiative, which aimed to develop a 21st century city around King Shaka International Airport.

It would offer businesses speedy connectivity to suppliers, customers and enterprise partners nationally and worldwide.

The provincial government was working with provincial and national stakeholders to position the airport as an alternative air and cargo hub for South Africa.

It was envisaged that the Durban Aerotropolis would become a catalyst for rapid urbanization, employment creation and would spur economic growth-and the BA flight was expected to bolster the Durban Aerotropolis strategy through new opportunities in tourism and investment.

Zikalala added that KZN was a region rich in business and investment prospects “as well as being the jewel in South Africa’s tourism crown.”

“The UK which shares a common historical heritage with South Africa will remain at pole position with respect to our preferred trade partners and cultural exchange programmes,” he said