OPEN FOR BUSINESS: An SAA flight lands at Durban's new King Shaka airport yesterday. The airport opens for business today.

THE new King Shaka airport will be officially open for business at midnight tonight, when all flights will be rerouted to the new airport and the old Durban International Airport closes down.

This follows weeks of preparations with airlines, car rental companies, retailers and other service providers setting up shop at King Shaka International Airport, north of the city.

Yesterday, South African Airways (SAA) hosted a flight to the new airport to test facilities . On board were CEO Siza Mzimela, Airports Company SA (Acsa) CEO Monhla Hlahla and Civil Aviation Administration CEO Colin Jordaan.

After the last flight lands at the old airport tonight - an SAA flight from Johannesburg at about 10pm - Acsa will carry out the final changes to facilitate the switch to the new airport.

Airlines that have aircraft parked at the airport overnight will begin flying them to King Shaka, while the ground handlers will truck in their equipment .

"We expect to have about 11 aircraft which will have to be moved . by 4am Saturday morning," Acsa spokesman Colin Naidoo said yesterday.

Air Traffic Navigation Services will have its hands full directing traffic between the two airports while getting acquainted with King Shaka airport.

Low-cost airline 1time cancelled its last flight today between Johannesburg and Durban, said CEO Glenn Orsmond . Comair would also cancel its late-night flights, said joint-CEO Erik Venter .

Bob Gurr, sales and marketing director at ground handler BidAir, said staff had familiarised themselves with the new airport and the biggest task was moving their equipment to King Shaka after the last flight tonight. "We will be trucking up all the equipment on low- bed trucks and should be in place well before the first flight in the morning."

BidAir provides ground handling for Comair's British Airways and kulula. com, Emirates and Air Mauritius.

The switchover will not be without its challenges. Orsmond says fuel, which will have to be trucked in from Durban, will cost more. "We are running the numbers now but it looks like it may be cheaper to upload fuel in Johannesburg, which is really odd as the fuel comes up from the coast in the first place."

Venter said kulula would have to cancel its flights after 10pm during next month. The navigation service "will still be conducting training . and will shut down the airspace after 10pm ".

Venter also lamented the expense added by the new toll road.

baumannj@bdfm.co.za