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Upington Airport

Upington Airport

Upington Airport was opened in 1968 as Pierre van Ryneveld Airport. The airport played what South Africa believed to be an important role in international flights. The mid 1970s saw the fall of the Portuguese regime in Angola when South African Airways lost its landing rights in Luanda. In addition to restrictions to overflying African states, there was concern that the country would lose its landing rights at the Ivory Coast and Cape Verde. With these factors playing an important influence Upington Airports runway was built to accommodate a Boeing 747 with a full load of passengers, cargo and fuel, so that it could take off for Europe without having to stop en route. The Northern Cape Province town of Upington was chosen because of its strategic position, availability of land and comparatively lower height above sea level (835m) than Johannesburg (1753m). From mid-1976 until the end of 1996, South African Airways made use of Upington as a refuelling station for two weekly scheduled Boeing 747 flights to London and Zurich.

The airport has three runways and it is believed that at 4900 metres, Upingtons runway 17/35 is one of the longest runways in the world. The high elevation of the airport, extremely high summer temperatures and the fact that it was designed for the Boeing 747 necessitated the extreme length of the main runway. Both South African Airways and the South African Air Force use the airport to train pilots in the handling of large aircraft such as 747s, 707s and the South African presidential jet. It is also one of the few runways that is able to land a space shuttle. Upington Airport also does a lot of cargo flights, sending anything from livestock to cars and mining equipment to Europe, the Middle East and the rest of Africa. Not to mention grapes, about one million tons of which are flown from Upington every year.

As a point of interest it is also noted that the Super Sonic Concorde did flight testing at Upington Airport in June 1976.

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