Oppenheimers' private OR Tambo terminal 'ready to go live'

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

Johannesburg – Fireblade Aviation, owned by the Oppenheimer family, has said it is just 'ready to go live' with its private international terminal at OR Tambo.

This after the North Gauteng High Court on Friday ruled that the aviation company could operate the private international terminal, despite objections lodged by then-Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba in 2016. 

The South African Revenue Service (SARS), and the home affairs department will render customs and immigration services, as is the case at Lanseria and Kruger Mpumalanga International airports, which are privately owned.

In a statement on Thursday, Fireblade Aviation said the terminal would be available for all privately-owned or chartered aircraft in the commercial and general aviation sectors.

Duncan Butcher, legal adviser at investment holding company Oppenheimer & Son, told Kylie Granat of Tourism Update that the terminal will not process flights by commercial airlines who offer scheduled flights within the standard aviation sector, such as those from South African Airways and British Airways.

This facility has been open for domestic operations since August 2014. “We were not able to offer our international services from that date due to the impasse with the customs and immigration issue. Everything has been in place for well over a year, and remains ready to ‘go live’,” said Butcher.

Fireblade has not given an estimated starting date for its international services, as it still needs to engage with the Department of Home Affairs, and other respondents from the recently-concluded court case.

These include SARS, state defence company Denel (from which it is leasing the premises), the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) and Precinct 2A Investments.

Court case 

The court application was lodged by Fireblade Aviation in November 2016, after former Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba reversed his original decision to grant approval for the international terminal.

Judge Sulet Potterill ruled on Friday that Gigaba's approval in January 2016 was still in force.

According to her judgment, ministerial approval may not be renounced or revoked by a minister without due cause. She said that Gigaba's original approval may be “implemented and relied upon” by the applicant, Fireblade.  

The home affairs department on Monday said that it was studying the judgment and would make an announcement in due course about what steps in intended to take.

The Economic Freedom Fighters, meanwhile, condemned the "exclusive access" granted to Fireblade Aviation, and criticised such a port for VVIPs - Very Very Important People - of further driving exclusion and marginalisation.

But the judgment highlighted the benefits of such a service for ACSA, which it said would support its long-term development plan to reorganise its Commercial Business Aviation (CBA).

It will provide additional capacity for Acsa to handle CBA away from “current congested facilities” at the main terminals, the judgment read.

“There is a dire need for these premium products at the largest airport in Africa and the lack of these facilities is tarnishing our [Acsa’s] brand.”

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