Oppenheimers can go ahead with private OR Tambo terminal

Fireblade Aviation's terminal at OR Tambo. (Fireblade Aviation website)
Fireblade Aviation's terminal at OR Tambo. (Fireblade Aviation website)

*Update: This story has been updated to indicate that SARS and the Department of Home Affairs will render the customs and immigration service of the Fireblade Aviation terminal.

Johannesburg – Fireblade Aviation can operate a private international terminal at OR Tambo International Airport, the North Gauteng High Court has ruled.

The ruling, made on Friday, grants permission to the aviation company, owned by the Oppenheimer family, to run a private customs and immigration service at OR Tambo International Airport for business people.  The South African Revenue Service (SARS) and the Home Affairs department will render the customs and immigration service, as is the case at Lanseria and Kruger Mpumalanga International airports, which are also privately owned. 

This comes after a court battle launched by Fireblade Aviation in November 2016, against the department of Home Affairs and others.

SARS and state-owned defence company Denel, from which Fireblade would lease the premises both opposed the application.

The application sought to have the court declare that approval for the terminal - allegedly granted by then-Home Affairs minister Malusi Gigaba in early 2016 - could not be renounced.

Gigaba, now the minister of finance, previously denied claims by the Oppenheimers that he had approved their application for a port of entry.

READ: 'I never approved the Oppenheimer’s ultra-luxury airport' – Gigaba

“I wish to state categorically that at no stage have I ever approved such application as alleged by the family,” he said in a statement issued by the department in January 2017.

But the judgment indicated that on January 28 2016 Gigaba had, in fact, granted his approval for the business terminal, only to later suspend it “until further notice” on the basis of security concerns by Denel.

This 'suspension' was revealed in an internal memo dated February 5, 2016.

Judge Sulet Potterill ruled that Gigaba's approval from January 2016 was still in force. According to the judgment the ministerial approval may not be renounced or revoked by the minister without any due cause.

The judgment clarified that Gigaba's original approval may be “implemented and relied upon” by the applicant, Fireblade.

Lifetime ambition 

The Home Affairs department, SARS and Denel are to pay the costs of the litigation. The department of Home Affairs said it would study the judgment and make an announcement on the steps it will take. 

In a statement issued on Monday, meanwhile, the EFF condemned the "exclusive access" granted to Fireblade Aviation, and criticised such a port for VVIPs - or Very Very Important Persons - of further driving exclusion and marginalisation.

On its website Fireblade states that the services it provides to clients at OR Tambo include international and domestic arrivals and departures, VIP ground handling services, apron parking, hangar parking, airport fees and refueling.

"Fireblade Aviation is the culmination of the Oppenheimer Family’s lifetime ambition to host a world class facility for business aviation at O. R. Tambo International Airport," states the website's landing page.

"We have both a full range business terminal and a charter division that, between them, cater to all your flying needs."

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