The City of Cape Town (CoCT) and the Western Cape government continue to lobby with national government to speedily approve an application by Delta Air Lines to the Department of Transport to add a stop at Cape Town International Airport on its Atlanta-Johannesburg service.
Highlighting that the US was a key tourism source market for Cape Town, CoCT Committee Member for Economic Opportunities, James Vos, told Tourism Update: “Inconveniencing international travellers in this way could severely impact Cape Town’s – and thus South Africa’s – tourism industry and thus hold back our post-COVID recovery.”
A poll by Tourism Update (launched on Monday) highlights that 77% of readers who participated believe that a flight from the US to Cape Town would further boost tourism numbers to South Africa.
Vos added that his priority was therefore to seek clarity on the reasons why the triangular route had not yet been approved. “I will assist with making the case for the merits of the Cape Town leg of Delta Air Lines’ flight route to South Africa.”
Application pending for over 12 months
Western Cape Minister of Finance and Economic Opportunities, David Maynier, expressed concern that the Delta Air Lines application had been pending for over 12 months.
“This matter was brought to my attention several weeks ago and since then I have been actively engaged in the matter, given the critical importance of the Cape Town route for tourist and business connections from the United States to the Western Cape,” he said, noting that he had written to the Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula (on May 13) requesting him to urgently review and approve the application for the triangular Atlanta-Johannesburg-Cape Town route.
Maynier has also written to the Minister of Tourism, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane requesting that she take up the matter with the Department of Transport, given the importance of the route for tourism recovery in South Africa.
“I have since received a reply from the Minister indicating that her department is in ‘intensive discussions’ with the Department of Transport on this matter.”
According to Maynier, his department has also engaged regularly over the past several weeks with all stakeholders involved in the matter, including representatives from Delta Air Lines, the US Consulate General and Cape Town Air Access, to ensure that every possible angle could be pursued in resolving this matter.
“From the various engagements that officials from the Department of Economic Development and Tourism and from Cape Town Air Access have had with the Department of Transport, it appears that a possible reason for the delay in the Delta Air Lines application is that this request is seen as a triangular flight, which will cause competition with domestic carriers,” he said.
‘No competition for domestic carriers’
However, this was not the case, emphasised Maynier. While Delta Air Lines is requesting to stop at two South African locations, passengers will only be able to purchase an Atlanta-Johannesburg ticket or an Atlanta-Cape Town ticket and vice versa.
“Delta Air Lines is not proposing to carry any domestic traffic between the two points and will not disembark any passengers originating from Johannesburg in Cape Town.”
The Cape Town Air Access team have engaged with the Department of Transport over this issue on several occasions and unfortunately the Department of Transport has not provided satisfactory evidence or arguments to oppose this application.
Maynier pointed out that the two reasons given for the delay by the Department of Transport – that it had not appointed a new Air Services Licensing Council and that the Aviation Policy Review Committee (APRC) was behind schedule in completing the policy review process – could not be allowed to hinder air service development in South Africa.
According to feedback received, the APRC has decided that “triangular routes will not be approved going forward and the ones ongoing are under review”.
Maynier said this was “extremely worrying” since the draft policy had not even been shared for public commentary, which suggested that a select few officials from the APRC had decided the national policy direction.
Appeal for urgent review
“The global aviation landscape is changing fast and progressively more applications of this type will follow, requiring flexibility in decision-making and the removal of red tape that is a barrier to economic growth in South Africa.
“Through delays like this, the Department of Transport is constraining South Africa’s air connectivity to other countries and unnecessarily compounding the negative impact of the global travel restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Maynier.
He reiterated that Delta Air Lines’ flight to Cape Town was key for economic recovery and job creation in the Western Cape. “And so, I appeal to Minister Mbalula to urgently review this matter and expedite this long-overdue application so that Delta Air Lines can fly to Cape Town.”