Chris Zweigenthal. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Chris Zweigenthal. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

The long-awaited white paper into aviation policy and airport development seeks greater private-sector financing on airport infrastructure and also aims to integrate the sector’s operations.

SA has 135 licensed airports, of which 10 are designated as international airports, nine as provincial government airports, 33 military airports and about 90 as municipal airports.

The majority of municipal airports are not financially sustainable, but the policy paper has cited international examples of airlines directly investing in airport infrastructure.

"Many airports have a huge role to play in feeding Airports Company SA [Acsa] airports and other international airports," according to Airlines Association of Southern Africa CEO Chris Zweigenthal.

Last Thursday, the Cabinet approved a white paper on national civil aviation policy and a subsidiary national airports development plan.

The yet-to-be gazetted policy papers outline the broad framework for aligning SA’s civil aviation sector with government policy. Currently, aviation tariffs are set by part-time regulators, governing Acsa and the Air Traffic Navigation Service, which manages airspace.

Framework reviews

The regulators that impose tariffs on passengers and airlines to fund and maintain airport infrastructure could ultimately be merged, but in the interim their frameworks should be reviewed, the policy reads.

"Independent regulators need to be able to exercise their powers and authority without hindrance. For this reason [the Department of Transport] needs to ensure that potential areas of conflict or issues that might discredit the regulators are eliminated," it is noted in the policy.

"The part-time nature of the economic regulators poses a very serious challenge for both the Department of Transport and industry. The regulators are not fully resourced and this limits their level of intervention and support on regulatory matters," the document reads.

Zweigenthal said that the policies provided a broad framework for what would be extensive consultation and processes in the future. A full-time economic regulator could reflect the increasing quantum being invested in airport infrastructure and the increasing complexity of airport planning.

"We are aware they are looking at appointing a full-time regulator, but within aviation many disciplines are a bit of a specialised area, [and this] may be a requirement for some sort of subregulator," he said.

"As members, we consult extensively with the airlines about how we push a consensus view to Acsa, to the regulator and ultimately to government," he said. The industry was also interested in co-operating in terms of airport development.

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