SA’s decision to open its skies to increased competition from foreign airlines in the run-up to 2010 is finally beginning to pay dividends, says SA Tourism CEO Moeketsi Mosola.
The recently concluded UK-SA agreement on air transport, which added 28 new flights a week between the two countries over the next three years, was evidence of this, Mosola said last week.
SA Tourism and other leaders in the tourism sector have long called for more flights to the country to meet burgeoning demand but the government has been slow to respond.
“I have been involved in these discussions for the past seven years as CEO of SA Tourism and it is the first time that I am completely satisfied with the agreement. There is no longer this eye for an eye approach to talks and this agreement offers the airlines much more flexibility in how the frequencies (flights) are used,” Mosola said.
Under the agreement, airlines in both the UK and SA have been given 14 additional flights between the two countries this year, seven next year, and a further seven between London and Durban in 2010.
British Airways was first to take up the flight, adding a third daily flight between London’s Heathrow and Johannesburg from April next year. Virgin and South African Airways are still weighing up their options.
Among the changes in this agreement is a clause allowing UK airlines to take up South African flights if South African airlines did not take up their frequencies within a specified time. “That has never been the case in the past,” said Mosola. The airlines would now have more choice about what aircraft they used, which airports they used and when they fly. It also allows airlines to add extra capacity in peak season periods.
“The government has become more sophisticated and clever in their negotiations. They are not strictly adhering to the principle of reciprocity but looking at what is needed for the country, particular the tourism sector, to grow.”
The government first outlined a more liberalised approach to bilateral negotiations in its airlift strategy document which was approved by the cabinet in 2006. The document presents a five-year plan for the regulation of air transport in support of the tourism sector with the express aim of ensuring that capacity is created (airline frequencies) ahead of demand.
However, that policy has only now begun to translate into positive results.
The transport department said yesterday that discussions regarding added capacity were taking place with other governments. So far the department has negotiated with Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UK, South Korea, Gambia, New Zealand and is in negotiations with Australia.
Further discussions were planned between SA and the Netherlands within the next two months, but SA was also in discussion with India on further liberalising the existing bilateral agreement, the department said.
Talks in December with the UAE resulted in Emirates adding daily flights between Dubai and Cape Town in March.