IATA official concerned as SA's air services councils remain 'frozen'

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South Africa's Domestic and International Air Services Councils have been "frozen" since March. (iStock)
South Africa's Domestic and International Air Services Councils have been "frozen" since March. (iStock)
  • The International Air Transport Association's regional vice president for Africa and the Middle East is on a visit to Johannesburg.
  • Kamil Alawadhi met with a number of local airlines and aviation entities as well as the Department of Transport.
  • raised various key issues including the urgency of reinstating SA's air services councils, assistance for the aviation sector, implementing a travel pass for the country and working towards greater connectivity on the continent.

A senior representative of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has asked government to get key aviation councils in place.

South Africa has not had an International Air Services Council (IASC) since March this year.

The IASC adjudicates applications for licences and permits to operate air services to and from SA. The country's Domestic Air Services Council – which assists with licensing processes and controls relating to local air services – is also not in place.

The Minister of Transport is responsible for designating a chairperson of the IASC and appointing at least four other members, but this has not happened yet.

Kamil Alawadhi, IATA's regional vice president for Africa and the Middle East, told a media briefing on Thursday that he had a "fruitful" meeting with Deputy Minister of Transport Sindisiwe Chikunga.

According to Alawadhi, she assured him that it is one of her priorities to get South Africa's Domestic and International Air Services Councils in place again as soon as possible.

"We had concerns with the two councils having been 'frozen' since March. I was assured by the deputy minister that she is working diligently to get both councils up and running. That will be good for domestic and international carriers," he said. "Most airlines are planning now already for where they want to operate next year and at what frequencies. They need the approval of these two councils."

Aviation industry members told Fin24 that the lack of councils left the already battered aviation industry in a more chaotic state as airlines wait for their applications for air traffic rights to be processed. 

Alawadhi also raised the issue of potential financial relief for the local airline industry as a whole and says the topic was "met quite well" by the Department of Transport.

"There are different ways states are assisting their airlines. This can include relief on taxes and charges. The SA government indicated to me that it intended to increase these aviation charges, but due to the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, it has decided to suspend any such implementation of higher charges and will review it only next year," said Alawadhi. 

"We had some concerns with aviation in South Africa given the period of turmoil. SA's aviation industry generated more than $9 billion in 2019 - about 3.2% of the country's GDP - which was massive for an economy the size of SA. Now it has dwindled to about $3 billion. At the same time, I am relatively positive that SA aviation is heading in right direction."

Alawadhi is positive about the potential of using the IATA Travel Pass to help open up borders to and from SA. 

"The airlines and SA government assured me they are moving towards the direction of a travel pass and we look forward to receive positive news about this soon," he said.

Pan-African airline group

Asked about a long-term goal of South African Airways (SAA) to look at establishing a type of pan-African airline group, Alawadhi said SAA is just starting up again and with a clean slate.

SAA and Kenya Airways announced earlier this week that they are signing a memorandum of co-operation and that a pan-African airline group could, in time, "enhance mutual growth potential by taking advantage of strengths of the two airlines' busy hubs". The agreement does not, however, preclude either of the airlines from pursuing commercial co-operation with other carriers within their route network strategy. 

"SAA is starting operations cautiously so as not to over-burn cash with the current anaemic demand for air traffic. Going into some form of agreement with Kenya Airways could bring advantages for both airlines. This kind of arrangement is quite common in order to open up destinations and gain market share," said Alawadhi.

Another issue of importance for Alawadhi is inter-connectivity on the African continent by moving forward with the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM). SAATM's intention is to remove restrictions when it comes to biletarals agreements between African states and promote competition.

"We want to get all 55 African states around one table to discuss their concerns. Moving forward with SAATM requires involvement of at least five stakeholders per country, including transport ministries and prominent airlines. We hope to do this maybe in the first quarter of 2022, but are also aiming for an initial meeting early in December," he said.

"If you liberalise air space in Africa through formal agreements like there is in the EU, the only restrictions for airlines will be whether an airport can handle the traffic. This should boost connectivity on the continent, simplify air travel and lower costs."

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