We are concerned that the application by Delta Air Lines to the Department of Transport to add a stop to Cape Town International Airport on its Atlanta-Johannesburg service has 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 (U.S.) to the Western Cape.
To this end, I wrote to the Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula on 13 May 2021 requesting that the Minister urgently review and approve the application for the triangular Atlanta – Johannesburg – Cape Town route and I wrote to the Minister of Tourism, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane on 17 May 2021 to ask her to 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 Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane indicating that her department are in ‘intensive discussions’ with the Department of Transport on this matter.
We have also engaged regularly over the past several weeks with all stakeholders involved in the matter, including representatives from Delta Air Lines, the U.S. 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.
However, this is not the case. 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.
The two reasons given, that the Department of Transport has not appointed a new Air Services Licensing Council and that the Aviation Policy Review Committee (APRC) is behind schedule in completing the policy review process, cannot 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”. This is extremely worrying since the draft policy has not even been shared for public commentary, which suggests that a select few officials from the APRC have decided the national policy direction.
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.
The Delta Air Lines’ flight to Cape Town is key for economic recovery and job creation in the Western Cape.
And so, I appeal to Minister Fikile Mbalula to urgently review this matter and expedite this long overdue application so that Delta Air Lines can fly to Cape Town.