Big plans for the airports and airlines in South Africa

 ·10 Mar 2023

The new minister of transport has met with the Board of Airline Representatives of South Africa (BARSA) to discuss plans to reignite the air transport business.

Speaking at an event in Cape Town, the minister of transport Sindiswe Chikunga said that the air transport industry faces various challenges, including poor infrastructure, a lack of human and physical resources, limited connectivity and a lack of transit facilities.

“Although substantial progress has been made during the last decade, our country is still lagging compared to other regions in terms of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ infrastructure,” said Chikunga.

She said to bring South Africa’s aviation industry back to fighting weight, new partnerships that enable a fast recovery and create more employment and investment opportunities will be needed.

The industry is fundamentally different to how it was five years ago; these are realities that policy needs to be adjusted to account for, she added.

Over the past five years, the global aviation industry has seen significant changes, such as an increased focus on new technologies and changing consumer behaviours due to the pandemic.

South Africa’s aviation industry was hit hard due to the pandemic, with many private airlines falling into financial black holes. Comair, the company behind Kulula, fell into business rescue and subsequently ended operations – taking 40% off of all domestic airline capacity.

Other smaller airlines were then relied on to fill this gap – at an added cost to consumers, with demand skyrocketing, pushing ticket prices up, especially around the holiday season.

The state-managed South African Airways has also been in a state of flux, with details around its financial status remaining murky.

Airports across the country have also faced disruptions to flight routes as a result of a lack of jet fuel.

Chikunga said that South Africa has now endorsed a continent-wide African Union plan to address fundamental deficiencies relating to the regulatory framework around the aviation industry as well as security and safety measures.

Aviation heavyweights such as the International Air Transport Association, in collaboration with the International Civil Aviation Organisation and others, have committed to support the Africa Strategic Improvement Action Plan, she added.

“The plan encourages African governments to foster regulatory oversight through the adoption of globally accepted safety and security standards,” the minister said.

A recently published document by the department of transport titled the National Land Transport Strategic Framework (NLTSF) for 2023-2028 has highlighted some further initiatives to reform the aviation industry.

Over the next five years, the department of transport under the NLTSF aims to provide a strategic framework to guide all modes of transport, including the integration of airports and harbours.

One of the fundamental goals of the NLTSF is to link major origins and destinations, including airports, hospitals, and recreational facilities, in an integrated transport plan, said the department.

The state-owned rail transport system Prasa has, for example, made recognition of the possibility of connecting current and growing nodes to major airports across the country.

New minister

Sindiswe Chikunga has replaced former minister Fikile Mbalula in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s latest cabinet reshuffle.

The role of minister of transport was left open since Mbalula took up the full-time position of secretary general of the governing ANC.

Chikunga was previously deputy minister in the portfolio.

Read: Big problem for airports in South Africa resurfaces thanks to load shedding

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