Mthatha Airport crisis could easily have been avoided

The shutdown of the Mthatha Airport rests squarely on the shoulders of the failing ANC government, and is a direct result of a couldn’t-care-less attitude in addressing problems caused by their own lack of action.

The South African Civil Aviation Authority stopped all commercial flights from landing at or leaving Mthatha airport as at 6am this morning (subs: Friday 25 January), a month after the Department was notified about shortcomings the SACAA had identified.

The fact that Mthatha Airport officials alerted transport MEC Weziwe Tikana in September to operational and non-compliance issues, along with transport HoD Irene Mpolweni, and that nothing was done about it, is a clear indication of the lack of leadership within this Department.

I will be submitting questions to MEC Tikana to request clarity on why no action was taken to address the shortcomings identified by the Mthatha Airport officials and SACAA. I will also be requesting a detailed plan of action, including timeframes, for the turnaround strategy to get the airport reopened.

With the shutdown of the airport, the investment of over R700 million in taxpayer’s money since 2013 is standing idle.

The shutdown has resulted in the new route offered by SA Express from Mthatha to Johannesburg, launched in December, being suspended. Airlink have also been forced to cancel their flight offerings and as a result hundreds of travellers have been stranded.

The cancellation of these booked flights will, no doubt, shake the long-term public confidence in the airport as a reliable transport hub.

The Mthatha airport is in fact a critical transport hub that has the potential of opening up the Eastern half of the Eastern Cape to tourism and business growth. Flight offerings should be expanding between Mthatha, Buffalo City, Nelson Mandela Bay and elsewhere, not shutting down.

Under a Democratic Alliance led government, this would never be allowed to happen. A growing economy requires the opening of up of transport routes, not shutting them down.