Mbabane - Swaziland's King Mswati III on Friday
inaugurated a new $280m airport in the tiny nation even though the project is
years away from being operational and has been dubbed a "white elephant"
It has taken 11 years to build the airport, at a cost
equivalent to almost 10% of the impoverished mountain kingdom's 2012 Gross
Authorities in the sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute
monarchy hope the airport will help attract tourism and foreign investment.
But it has yet to be granted an operating licence by the
International Air Transport Association (IATA) and no airlines are expected to
make use of the airport for years to come, prompting concerns about the viability
of the project.
Swaziland's ruler, however, defended the airport, which
was built under the name Sikhuphe International Airport but was on Friday
renamed King Mswati-III International Airport.
"This airport is not a tool to make a circus show
but to advance the country's development," the monarch said at the opening
Swaziland is currently serviced by South Africa's SA
Airlink which plies only the 45-minute route to and from Johannesburg and
operates from a smaller airport in the commercial hub of Manzini.
The new airport, built 70km away from the capital
Mbabane, will eventually be able to handle 300 passengers per hour and its
runway can accommodate jumbo jets, officials said.
Swaziland does not have its own national airline but
aviation authorities announced earlier this year that a new national carrier is
in the pipeline and will fly to 10 destinations in Africa and the Middle East.
Locked between Mozambique and South Africa, Swaziland
remains one of the world's poorest countries, though its monarch is estimated
to have a fortune of around $200m.