Runways to more flights

2010-05-29 08:46

South African airports

are the first thing visitors ­experience in the ­country. After a capital

­injection of R16 billion over the past five years, these points of entry are

­for the most part a good experience.

The Airports Company of South ­Africa’s (Acsa’s) success story can

largely be attributed to the company’s managing ­director Monhla ­Hlahla.

Hlahla is rather unique in that she is at the helm of a successful

state-owned company, which is not weighed down by allegations of ­corruption and

is ­renowned for good service and ­world-class facilities.

She has been Acsa’s boss since ­November 2001 and is not afraid to

speak her mind on matters ­affecting her airports.

Neither does she brook ­inefficiency nor is she fond of being in

the public eye. Rather, she is ­someone who puts her head down and ­finishes her


Among the many things Hlahla has to worry about is runways, which she prioritises.

She says: “If the ­company has a rand to spare, we ­invest in runways. An airport’s worst nightmare is that something

might go wrong with a runway. They are the source of ­our ­income.”

Hlahla says that the accident at the George airport in December

last year where a plane skidded off the runway was the first such occurrence at

an ­Acsa airport.

“We will not accept responsibility for this incident. The civil

aviation ­authority is still investigating the matter but we are convinced that

the runway was not the cause of the ­accident,” she says.

In addition to runways, safety, fuel,

and baggage issues cause most of Hlahla’s ­headaches.

It angers her that people always blame her for ­controversial

matters simply because she happens to be at the helm of a state-controlled


She says: “I am very seldom wrong and will protect Acsa with

everything I have because that is my job.”

A large part of her job involves building airport infrastructure,

she says: “I must create value for my shareholders. These shareholders are, in

the final analysis, ­taxpayers.”

According to her, criticism ­of ­Acsa’s development plans which

will increase the cost of flying are ­short-sighted.

“People are inclined to sit and talk about the present and are at

­loggerheads about things like the ­necessity of a new airport in Durban. But

they forget that infrastructure is long-term. At the end of the day one has to

look to the future,” she says.

Eskom, says Hlahla, is a good ­example of what could happen if a

company is myopic.

She hails from Limpopo and says that she would like to see more

South Africans flying. However, she says that existing regulations ­controlling

airports and airways make ­accessibility difficult.

She says: “Many studies have been done to determine how to get more

South Africans to fly. ­Currently, the 3% of the population who fly are

­subsidised by all ­taxpayers in the country.

“One study revealed that money is not the number one problem.

­Instead, we have discovered that transport to and from airports is the major


“If, for instance, people fly to ­Durban, they want to know how

they are going to get to where they want to be if they don’t have


One option under consideration, she says, is the re-introduction of

late-night local flights.

“Long ago there were midnight flights that were very cheap. Owing

to ­regulations, these were ­discontinued.

“Now we are left with fantastic ­airports that are closed in the


“Bringing back such flights would mean revising airports and

­airways’ economic and ­regulatory ­environment.”

Hlahla says that there will soon be a new regulation that will

spell out ­the costs involved in air travel: “I am ­always blamed for escalating

airport taxes, which, in turn, make flying more expensive.

“But do you know that the portion of taxes that come to Acsa only

amounts to R52 per ticket?

“And that is after the latest increases were ­approved.

“The big problems are rather things like airways’ fuel levy. This

serves to buttress airways in respect of the oil price movements.”

Hlahla manages 10 airports in South Africa including OR Tambo, King

Shaka and Cape Town ­International.

She has no intention of leaving ­Acsa any time soon. Thank heavens.

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