MOSHOESHOE I International Airport is set for a major upgrade following the inking of a M232.56 million financing agreement between the government and Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED).
The loan agreement was signed on Monday in Maseru by Finance Minister Dr ‘Mamphono Khaketla, on behalf of government, and KFAED Deputy Director-General Hamad Al-Omar.
Dr Khaketla said the reconstruction programme would entail, among others, increasing the airport’s handling capacity by extending the runway to handle larger aircraft, constructing a new VIP terminal building, renovating the existing terminal building and installing navigation aids in compliance with international civil aviation standards.
“On Friday, when I presented the budget speech, I indicated that the government of Lesotho was in the process of modernising the Moshoeshoe I International Airport with the support of the Kuwait Fund and several other development partners,” the minister said.
“This assistance has been long in coming since discussions had been ongoing between officials from Lesotho and Kuwait.”
Dr Khaketla said the airport upgrade was meant to cater for existing and forecast demands for passenger and cargo facilities.
“The airport’s capacity needs to be increased so it can accommodate large aircrafts. We envision that in the not too distant future, there will be direct flights from Lesotho to other countries such as Kuwait without necessarily having to pass through OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg,” she said.
“We also intend to create room for cargo planes that export various goods abroad. For instance, we can export fresh flowers to the European Union. So, having the capacity to accommodate cargo planes would bring us more business.”
Dr Khaketla said the airport also had the potential to be a lucrative hub for South African farmers living near Lesotho.
“There are many farmers in the Free State province of South Africa who export various products to Europe and the Middle East but have to transport their cargo to airports in Cape Town or at OR Tambo,” said the minister.
“It would, thus, be more cost effective for farmers in Bloemfontein, Ficksburg, Fouriesburg and surrounding areas to export their cargo from Lesotho and not from South Africa.
“With the expansion of the airport, we are hoping to attract such kind of business from the South African market.”
On his part, Mr Al-Omar said the financing agreement was KFAED’s way of helping Lesotho grow its economy.
“Since the establishment of KFAED in 1978, the two countries have enjoyed a fruitful relationship that has lasted for 38 years,” he said. “Over the years, various loans amounting to $54 million (M 845.78 million) have been used towards developing the country. We are very happy to support the government and the people of Lesotho.”