Airport plan back on track
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.”
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.