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Hangar Talk March 2017

A thumbnail sketch of DURBAN’S AIRPORTS - By: Tom Chalmers

WIITH THE fate of what is currently Durban’s oldest existing airport, Virginia, still hanging very much in the balance thanks to its owners, the eThekwini Municipality, wanting to sell the ground – despite rigorous and determined tenant and general public opinion – to make way for developers to totally convert the area – the future of this, the city’s general aviation facility unfortunately seems set to follow all its predecessors.

hangar talk

The WWII air force base at Isipingo. The site was later used for Louis Botha and then Durban International Airport.

Durban’s first true airport, the Stamford Hill Aerodrome, was opened in 1921. It was situated on a large tract of ground seawards of the high ground from which it obtained its name, and which adjoined to the north what is today the Durban Country Club and its golf course. It saw many historic flights and became the Durban terminal when Union Airways began operations, which later became South African Airways in the mid- 1930s.

Stamford Hill also became a base for the South African Air Force’s 5 Squadron after the military airport built at Reunion on the border between Isipingo and Amanzimtoti, to the south of Durban, was closed after World War II. (see photo above) Congella, at the head of Durban’s huge bay, became the base for the SAAF’s Sunderland flying boat 35 Squadron in 1930 and operated for more than 25 years before being closed and the squadron transferred to Ysterplaat, Cape Town, to be reequipped with Avro Shackleton maritime patrol aircraft.

During the late 1940s, a decision was made to not only build a new commercial airport near the old SAAF base to the south of Durban, known originally as Reunion Airport and later Louis Botha Airport, but also a separate general aviation airport to be built on the coast of the Virginia suburb in Durban North.

Reunion Airport opened in 1951 to be officially renamed in the mid-1950s on the same day that the new Virginia Airport was officially opened. Both ceremonies were officiated by the then Minister of Transport, Ben Schoeman, but that at Reunion was marred a few hours earlier when a SAAF Vampire crashed during a training flight killing its pilot.

At the time of Reunion’s opening, Stamford Hill continued for a few years until 1959 as a general aviation airport and air force base before being closed to become a soccer stadium and later the Moses Madiba stadium in time for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.......................................To read the full article please subscribe to our E Magazine Here.

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