WONDERBOOM Airport, north of Pretoria, is due to introduce scheduled flights to Cape Town and Durban from October by an airline that has not yet been named, but is believed to be Interlink Airlines.

The Tshwane City Council, which owns the airport, is spending R165,5m upgrading Wonderboom's infrastructure in preparation for the new service. The development includes expanding the apron to provide parking for more and larger aircraft and putting a luggage carousel in place.

New weather equipment is also scheduled to be installed, while new fire-fighting equipment is on order, with the first fire engine already having been delivered.

Plans for a scheduled service were first mooted as far back as 2007 when the city council called for expressions of interest. This was followed by a call for more a more detailed business plan, with Interlink emerging as the preferred carrier.

However, Hendrick Kleynhans, the project leader at the airport, refused to confirm the chosen airline, saying the council was still negotiating a service-level agreement with the selected carrier.

He said the intention was to create a secondary airport for the Pretoria market in the way Lanseria catered for the West Rand of Johannesburg. "For many people living in Pretoria, OR Tambo International Airport is too far away and congested, and we will offer a viable alternative. We estimate that between 25%-30% of the passengers that use OR Tambo live in Pretoria."

Kleynhans said the airport would be able to cope with 450 departing and 400 incoming passengers an hour once the upgrade was complete.

Future plans include expanding the runway to allow the airport to handle larger aircraft such as a Boeing 737-800, a project that is likely to cost upwards of R600m. "That includes buying up additional property, the widening and lengthening of the runway, taxiways and the security fencing," said Kleynhans.

Next year, Wonderboom is likely to see a surge in traffic during the Soccer World Cup. Many airlines are likely to use the airport to park aircraft, with OR Tambo unable to cope with the volume of idle aircraft during the first few week of the tournament.

The airport is also likely to be used by Fifa for its own aircraft and other charter operators. Wonderboom had also built taxi and bus facilities in preparation for next year.

baumannj@bdfm.co.za