While praising South Africa's high standards and advanced capabilities in the commercial aviation sector, International Air Transport Association (Iata) director-general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac has urged the country to make a number of adjustments to maximize the economic benefits of aviation to the country. "We think that aviation is a positive and contributing force to South Africa," he told a media briefing in Johannesburg on Thursday.
"South Africa is ahead of many countries in the world ... in terms of safety and standards," he affirmed. "We have a very strong and a very fruitful relationship with the South African authorities."
"We [do] have some areas of dissatisfaction ... we think that there are some areas for improvement, which can easily be done," he said. "We have some issues, some regulatory issues -- the way you treat passengers."
For example, international passengers wishing to use Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport to transit to other countries need to obtain a transit visa from South Africa, even though they never pass through South African immigration and customs. This made OR Tambo less attractive as an air transport hub, he noted. And lifting South African visa requirements on a larger number of countries would stimulate both the country's aviation and tourism sectors.
"The second area in which we have concerns, is the will of the South African authorities to impose BBBEE [broad-based black economic empowerment] regulations on international airlines," he cautioned. "This could cause problems. ... There are specific regulations that could cause problems."
South African BBBEE regulations require that the local branches of international airlines be 25% locally-owned, or, if that is not possible, require those airlines to pay an extra tax on their revenues generated in South Africa. By global standards, De Juniac pointed out, these were most unusual regulations.
Moreover, they probably violated South Africa's bilateral Air Service Agreements with more than 130 countries, which are all based on the principle of reciprocity. That means that if South Africa imposes new obligations on foreign airlines, their home countries can then impose equivalent new obligations on South African airlines. So Iata, which is not at all opposed to BBBEE in principle, is seeking a waiver for the airline sector from these regulations.
Another concern is the legal establishment, by South Africa, of a radio "reservation" to protect the future Square Kilometre Array radio telescope from radio frequency interference, which lies directly below the busiest air traffic route in Africa. Detouring aircraft around this reservation would significantly increase flight times and fuel burn which would have a significant harmful effect on the South African economy.
On the other hand, airliners overflying the reservation would not be able to switch off their radios, for reasons of safety. Iata sees a lack of coordination between the responsible South African Ministers as "disturbing". This problem was, he drily observed, "not completely solved".
Overall, however, and especially with regard to safety, "South Africa is doing well. ... There is nothing to change except to maintain, as everywhere, constant vigilance," he concluded.