More than ten months have passed since South Africa lost its International Air Services Licensing Council (IASLC), putting the local airline sector in uncertainty when it comes to expanding its network of routes and increasing the number of flights it operates.
Despite the lifting of foreign travel prohibitions and the aviation industry’s emphasis on recouping the enormous losses it suffered as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, South African airlines are eager to expand their operations overseas. Acquisition of additional regional and international lines, on the other hand, has been virtually halted since March 2021.
This deadlock has resulted from the dissolution of the IASLC, which was in charge of assigning or cancelling traffic rights to airlines located in South Africa, and which has now been dissolved. Individuals selected by the department of transportation serve three-year terms on the IASLC.
More than 10 months have passed since the last term came to an end, and the department of transport has failed to nominate new council members despite being aware of the impasse and facing intense criticism from the country’s aviation industry.
Some industry players have claimed that the delay has benefitted the interests of South African Airways (SAA), which would re-emerge with its traffic rights intact in late September 2021 after a two-year hiatus. According to the Air Services Act of 1993, unutilized traffic rights, such as those held by South African Airways during its more than year-long grounding, should be withdrawn or cancelled.
However, since there is no IASLC, SAA’s rights remain intact and are not available to other airlines.
This has harmed South African airlines at a time when the sector is eager to explore new markets and profit on the possible post-pandemic boom in overseas travel that is expected to take place.
Aaron Munetsi, CEO of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa (AASA), said in an interview with Business Insider South Africa: “We are extremely disappointed that it has taken so long [to establish the IASLC] and, more importantly for the country, this is an unnecessary and uncalled for own-goal that we scored against ourselves.”
Job opportunities that are so needed in our nation will not be developed as a result of the council’s non-availability.” By denying ourselves the option to expand [international lines] that would bring in more visitors, we are limiting the development of new jobs. We’re also bolstering the economy of the countries with whom we’re in competition.”
It is possible for international carriers to gain routes to and from South Africa without the requirement for prior clearance from the IASLC, and with merely a foreign operator’s authorization. Munetsi contends that the department’s failure to appoint an IASLC is “incapacitating” South Africa’s own travel sector and airlines as a result of its inability to appoint an IASLC.
Despite months of assurances that a new council would be appointed, the Department of Transportation issued a list of possible candidates in November. More than three months have passed, and the Department of Transportation has made no additional public comments on the status of re-establishing the IASLC, leaving the airline sector feeling apprehensive about the situation.
We saw the list in November and had a conversation with the department, and the minister [Fikile Mbalula] said that they would make every effort to expedite the process. “We were pleased with that commitment,” Munetsi added.
According to the report, “we have not heard of any [additional] announcement or [of any] official government gazette being released as of today.”
In a recent interview with Business Insider South Africa, key participants in the country’s aviation business said that, based on their own sources, the publishing of an official gazette announcing the establishment of a new IASLC was soon.
Lawrence Venkile, the department’s acting spokesman, confirmed to Business Insider SA that the selection of a new IASLC was actually in the “final stages.”
“I can confirm that the appointment process is nearing completion, but I am unable to provide a specific date for when the names of [council members] will be published in the Gazette… “However, we are nearing the finish of that procedure,” Venkile said.
“All of the steps [of screening selected applicants] have been completed, and we are now in the final stages of finalizing the appointment.”
Following the department’s announcement that a gazette will be published shortly, Munetsi said that he was waiting with “bated breath.”
“We are looking forward to a swift settlement and completion of the process,” said the group.