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More local airports seek to host flights to SADC

More local airports seek to host flights to SADC

Source: Business Day Live - by Andiswa Maqutu, 24 November 2014

FOUR of South Africa’s smaller airports are seeking legislative changes that would allow them to operate flights to countries in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc).

However, so far their two-year battle to pressure the government into granting them this concession has failed to produce results.

Grand Central Airport, Rand Airport, Wonderboom Airport and Richards Bay Airport all want the changes. At present, SA’s regulations only provide for domestic and international status for airports.

According to the Department of Transport, an application for regional status has also been received from a fifth airport, which the Mpumalanga provincial government plans to build in the Nkangala district as mainly a cargo hub.

The Department of Transport’s deputy director-general, Zakhele Thwala, said a decision was taken in 2002 to have only one international airport in each province. Only Gauteng was to be allowed to have two — OR Tambo and Lanseria.

State-owned Airports Company SA operates nine of the 10 international airports in SA. South African Airways and the two airlines under its wings, SA Express and Mango Airlines, fly directly to destinations in Sadc. Privately owned Comair and SA Airlink operate direct flights into the region.

Speaking at the Commercial Aviation Association of Southern Africa annual general meeting two weeks ago, Mr Thwala said the decision to limit the number of airports with international flying rights needed to be questioned. "We have to ask ourselves (if) that decision of 2002 is still relevant today.

"Does it still serve us in the manner in which it should? Do we need more international airports?"

Other questions that needed to be raised included whether or not to allow competition among airports, Mr Thwala said. "Will our economy be able to support all those airports?

"Is it a good thing to have competition among these airports?"

Grand Central Airport in Midrand, which employs more than 300 people, is one of the airports that have lost their international status under the new regulations.

Grand Central Airport manager Gary Renault said the facility could accommodate an 18m aircraft seating 20 people. Charter and private aircraft operators had expressed an interest in flying to countries in the Sadc, such as Mozambique and Botswana, from the four smaller local airports.

But so far there had been little interest in granting regional status to these airports from the Department of Transport, said Mr Renault, who is also president of the Airports & Aerodromes Association of SA.

A presentation was made to Parliament in May this year, but the aviation association has not received any feedback yet.

King Air Charter CEO Riccardo Talevi said there had been a decline in demand for charter services in Sadc and an increase in demand for private jet services in Nigeria, among other countries. Scheduled flights from large airlines were now flying to areas where only smaller aircraft used to fly, such as Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo.

But with gas discoveries in Mozambique and Tanzania, the charter services industry could still see an uptick, Mr Talevi said. "Business could grow once the extraction of these resources starts."

 

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