Air­port plan back on track

Grocott's Mail - - NEWS - By SUE MACLENNAN

Plans for reg­u­lar sched­uled flights be­tween Gra­ham­stown and Jo­han­nes­burg are at a stage that could see the ser­vice in­tro­duced be­fore the next Easter hol­i­days. At the same time, fund­ing is be­ing sourced to com­plete the fea­si­bil­ity phase of a pro­posed project to up­grade the air­port precinct that in­te­grates a small re­gional com­mer­cial air­port with a light in­dus­trial park, a tech­nol­ogy in­no­va­tion hub and a res­i­den­tial air park.

Ce­mair CEO Miles van der Molen yes­ter­day con­firmed that fol­low­ing pro­tracted ne­go­ti­a­tions, the com­pany is again ac­tively pur­su­ing plans to in­tro­duce the ser­vice by April 2017.

Al­though op­er­a­tion of the ser­vice re­quires mi­nor up­grades and ad­just­ments to the fa­cil­i­ties at the Gra­ham­stown aero­drome, the devel­op­ment of the air­port precinct pro­posed in this week’s Lo­cal Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment (LED) port­fo­lio com­mit­tee meet­ing of the Makana Coun­cil is a sep­a­rate project.

In this week’s LED port­fo­lio com­mit­tee meet­ing, Di­rec­tor Riana Meir­ing de­scribed pro­posed air­port de­vel­op­ments as one of three ma­jor cat­a­lysts for eco­nomic devel­op­ment in Makana Mu­nic­i­pal­ity. The oth­ers are the Cre­ative City and Waste to En­ergy projects.

Meir­ing said while the air ser­vice and the pro­posed air­port up­grade are com­ple­men­tary, the lat­ter is not a pre­req­ui­site for the ser­vice to op­er­ate. Makana Coun­cil re­cently ap­proved the sign­ing of a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing (MOU) with Ce­mair, a sched­uled air­line based at OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Jo­han­nes­burg. Van der Molen yes­ter­day con­firmed that Ce­mair would be pro­ceed­ing with plans to in­tro­duce the sched­uled ser­vice to Gra­ham­stown.

“The Coun­cil’s ap­proval came dur­ing a very busy phase for us, so I don’t know when we will get to it, but we will be pur­su­ing it as soon as we get a gap,” Van der Molen told Gro­cott’s Mail.

Ce­mair first con­firmed their in­ten­tion to run a sched­uled ser­vice be­tween Joburg and Gra­ham­stown in November 2014. How­ever, ne­go­ti­a­tions with Makana Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, which owns the air­field, stalled sev­eral times. Ce­mair’s busi­ness pro­posal was taken to Coun­cil at the time, where it met with sev­eral stum­bling blocks. One was con­cern about the re­quire­ment that a fire en­gine be present when­ever a com­mer­cial flight lands. In Ce­mair’s case this was ini­tially es­ti­mated to be around three times a week.

The con­cern of some councillors that this might hap­pen dur­ing a fire emer­gency was ad­dressed by the agree­ment that in this unlikely case, the flight would di­vert to Port El­iz­a­beth or East London.

“A bona fide emer­gency is an ex­cep­tional event,” Van der Molen said yes­ter­day. “We have to bal­ance our li­a­bil­ity with what can be achieved. In an op­er­a­tion like this there are ca­pac­ity con­straints wher­ever you go; how­ever, we be­lieve there are suf­fi­cient re­sources for us to main­tain our obli­ga­tions.”

Si­lence

How­ever, the big­gest stum­bling block dur­ing pre­vi­ous ef­forts to get the ser­vice off the ground, Van der Molen said, was si­lence.

“We sim­ply didn’t hear any­thing for months. We didn’t get told much and we never got to the bot­tom of it,” he said.

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