New horizons for Hlahla

2011-07-16 07:58

The outgoing boss of Airports Company South Africa (Acsa), Monhla Hlahla, said the time was right for her to leave the state-owned company after nearly 10 years.

“I managed a 10-year plan to the end successfully. It’s just not right for me to stay on longer.

“If I wanted to stay, it would have to be for another seven years because it takes such long periods of time to see projects through to their end.

“It’s now time for a new person, a new manager, to step in with their own ­vision and insight, and take Acsa even further and higher,” she said.

Under Hlahla’s supervision, Acsa successfully completed a R20 billion expansion programme that included the construction of Durban’s new King Shaka International Airport.

The multibillion-rand airport was one of the biggest sources of criticism against Hlahla, with many industry players saying Acsa built a “white ­elephant” under her supervision which was now leading to high airport costs. Hlahla said she stood by everything she had done.

“The airport was necessary and will be needed in the future. With regard to the fighting over the tariffs and ­increases, I see the issues as settled.

“I wouldn’t run away from a ­challenge or criticism, but the issues are in the past and settled,” she said.

Hlahla said some of the biggest ­challenges for her successor would be ­regulatory in nature.

“The policies and regulations in South Africa’s air industry need ­revision. Things like second airports in cities and airport zoning.

“The existing policies and the ­economic policies of the government surrounding the industry need to be ­revised. It may be one of the biggest and most urgent priorities for my ­successor.”

Hlahla said the local airline industry, like South Africa itself, was on the verge of something big.

“We don’t realise it. We have incredible potential and it would be a shame if this potential is not realised.”

She said that Acsa’s management team was qualified and experienced enough to manage the group successfully without her.

“They’re like a pack of young dogs biting at my ankles. They actually ­already manage most of the day-to-day activities of Acsa with good results.”

She finishes at Acsa at the end of ­September and looks forward to just taking a few months off. After that, she will weigh up her options.

Politics? “Oh no,” she said, “it wouldn’t work for me. My temper would get in the way too much.”

In the meantime, Acsa’s regulator and the Department of Transport in the past week ratified tariff increases for the next two years at 35% and 31%, ­respectively.

The tariffs were the cause of a fight between Acsa and its ­regulator that has been going on for the past two years.

Between last year and 2015, Acsa’s tariffs will cumulatively rise by 161%. Acsa originally applied for rises ­totalling 190%.

The transport department’s ­director-general, George Mahlalela, said the department did not believe that “the approved tariffs will kill the airline industry in South Africa”, adding that airports and airlines needed each other to survive.

He said: “Both parties were taken ­into account and an agreement was made on a result that would be fair to both.”

According to Mahlalela, the ­department will, over the next six months, do an intensive revision of the regulator and the methodology used to structure tariffs.

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