City air service

2007-12-21 00:00

IN an article earlier this week, Airlink MD and CEO Rodger Foster gave insights into various aspects of the Airlink operation at Oribi Airport, which began in 1992. As he says, the service provided has been safe and reliable on the whole, and demand for it has been high — hence the introduction (on a three-month trial basis) of the jet aircraft which can take 97 passengers.

The trial period has been bedevilled by difficulties, however, many of which relate to inadequacies in facilities and infrastructure at Oribi, which make it impossible to land there in the kind of weather that has been experienced recently, with heavy rain and low cloud cover. This has meant delays and, on more than one occasion, the diversion of planes to Durban and bussing of passengers to Pietermaritzburg, at considerable cost to Airlink: R300 000 in November alone.

Clearly, Airlink itself can do only so much in flying safe, well-maintained and professionally piloted aircraft to a schedule which suits the majority of passengers. It has also commissioned and funded the technical work necessary for the development of a satellite-based approach procedure to assist pilots landing in poor weather.

What’s needed now apparently is for the Msunduzi Municipality to do its part. So far, the upgrading of Oribi, though aesthetically pleasing and more efficient, has been largely cosmetic, and certain practical undertakings have not yet been carried out. These include improvements to the quality and accuracy of the Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) approach into Oribi in heavy cloud. They include also the upgrading of the approach lighting system — a matter of urgency as at present the lights of the city make it difficult to identify the runway lights, even in good weather.

Pietermaritzburg residents, making increasing use of air travel, need an airport worthy of the capital of KwaZulu-Natal, capable of handling the arrivals and departures of as many aircraft as needed and, sooner rather than later, including in its schedule destinations other than Johannesburg. The municipality needs to rise to the task, moving swiftly to implement its undertakings to Airlink and, besides, making further improvements to passenger comfort and security, such as installing an adequate parking facility at the airport.

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