Airport fate in the balance

2010-02-25 00:00

THE future of Oribi Airport hangs in the balance. A decision whether there will be any more flights out of the city rests with the Msunduzi Municipaliy’s executive committee (Exco), which meets today.

The Witness has learnt that the contract with airport management company Indiza ends at midnight on Sunday, and no attempt has been made to renew it.

A source at the airport said President Jacob Zuma landed at Oribi on Saturday. There is a strong possibility that he won’t be able to land here again. Apparently security guards employed by the company that oversees airport security were told that tomorrow may be their last working day.

Commercial airlines cannot operate from airports without security. This means that Airlink may have to terminate flights to Pietermaritzburg.

Hardest hit will be the city’s business community, which makes frequent use of the Airlink flights. The Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business (PCB) has already issued a warning to its members about the possible closure.

In a newsletter yesterday, the chamber said that in terms of prevailing legislation, the airport will not be allowed to operate without professional management and qualified personnel. In the absence of these measures, the civil aviation authorities will be forced to shut the airport down, with about 80 people losing their jobs as a result.

The newsletter went on to state: “It is understood that at the root of the problem is an ill-conceived and uninformed view by [Msunduzi] Exco that the municipality and/or its appointees should run the airport. To this end it has been negotiating with the management company to extend by six months its contract …

“Indiza maintains that for practical reasons, it cannot consider anything shorter than 12 months. Opinion is divided on the likely outcome of the stand-off, but concerned businesspeople hope that common sense wil prevail.”

Exco member Pops Chetty said there is no crisis at the airport. “Exco will officially extend the contract of Indiza by a year. After a year we will invite other service providers to tender for the management of the airport. We have had a number of meetings with Indiza regarding the extension of the contract,” he said.

Chetty added that the municipality has done a lot of work to improve the airport and will not allow it to shut down. “We recently conducted a sod turning for the new airport carpark, we have spent R3,5 million installing landing lights and we have spent R1,8 million improving the airport’s fire- fighting services so that it can be upgraded to a grade six category,” he said.

He said the municipality bought two fire engines to be stationed at the airport because eventually it wants bigger planes to land there.

“Negotiations are at an advanced stage with two other airline companies to be able to have direct flights to Cape Town, Lanseria and Pretoria from the city.

“Everything is under control. If we were to allow the airport to be closed down, the money we have spent improving it would be tantamount to wasteful expenditure,” Chetty said.


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