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Thursday Jun 05, 2014

Pretoria airport for sale

Wonderboom National Airport will be put up for sale after an investigation found that the private sector would obtain funding required to develop the facility far better than the current owner, City of Tshwane.

In addition, a process has been initiated to engage with interested airlines to introduce scheduled flights at the airport.

City of Tshwane spokesman Selby Bokaba said the investigation found that privatising the airport could turn it into a more productive contributor to the economy of the country's capital.

Bokaba said the investigation showed that procurement processes of local gover nment were contributing to legislative non-compliance risks, referring to fuel shortages that have plagued the airport for a long time.

'A situation is created where airport services are rendered at far higher prices than what the private sector through a negotiation process can achieve. This can have a negative influence on the feasibility of the facility,' he said.

Tshwane has already approved a road map to guide the process of selling the airport. The metro will appoint a transaction adviser to kick-start the process.

'Once an adviser has been appointed, it will take 18 to 22 months to finalise all the required legislative processes applicable to a transaction of this nature and have the airport operations and management responsibility transferred to a successful bidder.'

Bokaba said the city had on several occasions in the past been approached by private companies interested in the airport. They also asked about the possibility and processes to be followed with regards to acquiring the airport.

However, he said this would be done through a public bidding process. Negotiation processes had already been initiated with interested scheduled flight operators to use the airport.

Bokaba said feasibility studies were under way to ensure that flights and tickets could be made available at an affordable price. Wonderboom Airport were mooted. With a view to preparing for the World Cup visitors, the municipality spent R165.5 million on an upgrade to accommodate passenger flights.

The improved infrastructure includes arrivals and departure halls, a with kiosks, and a public transport facility developed for tour buses and minibus taxis. The parking area was also upgraded.

The moment feasibility was guaranteed, the roll-out to provide scheduled flights would take between six and seven months to complete.

Bokaba said Tshwane was awaiting further feedback from scheduled flight operators interested in using the airport.

Airlink has been mentioned in council reports as being interested in introducing scheduled flights to Cape Town as a first destination.

However, the airline's spokesman was unavailable for comment.

Francois Bekker, DA spokesman for transport in Tshwane, said the opposition party supported the selling of the business entity of the airport and retention of the property.

Running an airport was not the core business of a municipality, Bekker said.

'The aviation industry is far too complex and specialised and Tshwane has proven over and over again that it was incapable of running the facility successfully.

'Experts from the industry are needed to run the airport. The solution is to sell the business component of the airport.

'But, this selling process must be transparent so that we get the best possible buyers - people who have proven experience in the aviation field. A tenders-for-pals scenario should be avoided at all costs.

'With everything in place, scheduled flights will be possible and this will unlock the economic potential of the airport. And then it will also be possible to obtain international status.

'In essence, make this a pocket of excellence and economic driver of note. At the moment it is running the risk of becoming just another Tshwane metro failure.'

A flight operator at Wonderboom told the Pretoria News that selling the airport would be the only way to save both operators and the facility. He said the current management did not look after the tenants, who were paying exorbitant fees to use the airport.

'Fuel prices at Wonderboom must be the most expensive of all municipal airports in the country,' said the operator.

'Security guards are forever on strike and theft is rife at times. When you raise these issues, all you get is a politically motivated response.'

The operator said privatising the airport would be a step in the right direction.

'Look at Lanseria - that airport has grown in leaps and bounds since it was privatised,' he added.

  • Wonderboom Airport had humble beginnings in 1937 as a civil airstrip for light aircraft. The airport became the base for the Pretoria Light Aircraft Company and the Pretoria Flying Club. The property belonged to the then City Council of Pretoria, and the Pretoria Light Aircraft Company managed the airport.

    During World War II it was used temporarily for military training and became the foremost training facility for pilots of both the Royal Air Force and SA Air Force. It was far from the war zone and offered good weather conditions.

    After the war ended, it was used for chartered flights and pilot training.

    In 1965, the airport was greatly extended, including lengthening of the runway, a new terminal building, hangars and landing lights. The facility widened its range of services by including pilot workshops.

    The improved airport meant it was well equipped to receive its first Boeing 737 in 1982. During the 1980s, the airport became the base for one of the biggest parachute clubs in South Africa.

    In 1993, the runway was again upgraded - to its present length of 1 828m.

    Airport management passed to the Greater Pretoria Metropolitan Council in December 1994. Towards the end of 2000, ownership passed to the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality.

    In 2007, plans for a scheduled passenger service from Wonderboom Airport was used extensively during the World Cup, as an alternate airport for VIP guests, heads of state and foreign dignitaries.

    The facility now handles general aviation flights for light aircraft and helicopters and is used as a flight school centre for private trainers and various flying and sky-diving clubs in Gauteng.

    Pretoria News


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