Zanzibar was proving to be an ideal destination for South Africans with a desire to travel beyond the country’s borders during the pandemic since there is no quarantine requirement on arrival and Covid-19 PCR testing (required for re-entry to South Africa) can easily be carried out before departing Zanzibar.
Direct flights between Johannesburg and Zanzibar were being operated by the low-cost carrier Mango Airlines until 25 April. A subsidiary of South African Airways, Mango is now facing a financial crisis while it waits to receive pre-approved funding which had been allocated to it by the Department of Public Enterprises.
Mango’s Zanzibar ‘monopoly’
As a result of the delay, Mango suspended operations on its popular Zanzibar route where it held a monopoly since South African Airways (SAA) who also had rights to operate scheduled services on the route has been grounded since March last year. The suspension of direct flights to the island means that the destination is no longer an attractive option for the number of South Africans who wish to visit the island.
Travelnews reports that South African tour companies that organise holiday packages to Zanzibar, have been requesting privately owned South African airline companies to start up flights on the now unserved Zanzibar route, since there is demand for flights.
Airlines eager to fill the gap, but…
Privately-owned local airline Cemair, which has been spreading its wings and picking up additional routes while many routes remained underserved, is keen to operate flights on the Zanzibar route.
Cemair’s CEO Miles van der Molen told Travelnews that his airline is eager but not able to start up flights since all existing permits to operate flights on routes to Tanzania were reserved.
“We would be very keen to take on this route but the bilateral agreement between South Africa and Tanzania only allows about 28 or 29 weekly flights between the two countries; 26 of these traffic rights are currently held by SAA, SA Express and Mango, none of which is servicing the routes,” Cemair’s Miles van der Molen told Travelnews.
“The rights for the remaining two flights were recently awarded to Airlink, which is operating flights between South Africa and Dar es Salaam. This means that there are currently no available traffic rights for us to apply for.”
ROUTE AUTHORISING COUNCIL NOW DEFUNCT
Newly independently airline Airlink which has been expanding operations and increasing its local schedule since being allowed to resume operations, said there is no possibility of other airlines securing permits to start up direct flights on the Zanzibar route for the foreseeable future due to the Air Services Licencing Council (an entity placed under the Department of Transport) having disbanded in March.
“Members of the International Air Services Council serve for only three years, and as their tender has ended, there is currently no council in existence to either revoke or award new traffic rights. This means that, regardless of interest in the destination, there is no immediate solution to close the gap created by Mango’s suspension of the route.” Airlink’s Rodger Foster told Travelnews.
“Section 20 and 21 of the Air Services Act of 1993 outlines that the International Air Services Council has the right to revoke unused traffic rights. The council should do this automatically but the Act also makes provisions for queries or complaints to be raised to the council relating to dormant traffic rights.
“In this instance, the International Air Services Council must launch an investigation about why the rights are dormant and respond publicly on its assessment, revoking unused rights in order to allow other carriers to apply for them.”
ROUTES ‘RESERVED’ FOR STATE-OWNED CARRIERS
Cemair’s CEO believes that the Air Services Licencing Council, tasked with the approval of flight route applications and the granting of permits to airlines, had intentionally held off the processing of new applications by acting in favour of the state-owned carriers.
“Not only did the International Air Services Council disband in March without replacements being appointed but the previous Council left their position with a massive backlog of applications unattended to. We believe that this was due to governmental pressure to prevent injury to SAA and SA Express through the revocation of their traffic rights ahead of their supposed ‘imminent’ restarts,” Van der Molen said.
SOUTH AFRICA INCREASINGLY ISOLATED
Aviation economist Dr Joachim Vermooten told Travelnews that the lack of adjudication of applications for international flight routes received from airlines in South Africa had led to a reduction in air connectivity between South Africa and other countries.
This translates to increasing isolation of the country, despite travel bans and entry restrictions raised against South Africa as a result of COVID-19 restrictions that have been imposed by other countries.