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Air Transport and Airport Ground Handling Services
With unmanned aerial vehicles taking to the skies in increasing numbers, the civilian air transport industry finds itself navigating through unchartered airspace. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has warned that drones have emerged as "a real and growing threat" to civilian aircraft safety. Addressing an aviation conference in Singapore, Tony Tyler, the Director General and CEO of IATA commented, "I am as excited as you are about the prospect of having pizza delivered by a drone, but we cannot allow drones to be a hindrance or safety threat to commercial aviation." Mr Tyler emphasised that the threat to the safety of civilian aircraft was real. In January 2016, the United Kingdom Air Proximity Board reported that there were four near-miss incidents involving drones at airports in the United Kingdom, including a narrowly averted collision between a drone and a Boeing 737. In South Africa, the recent crash landing of a drone at Eskom’s Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, north of Cape Town, has brought the issue into sharp focus. Adding to this emergent threat is the escalation of geopolitical tensions and acts of terrorism.
Opportunities and Challenges
South Africa, notwithstanding its ‘end-of-hemisphere’ location, has emerged as a key regional air transport hub, connecting Southern African nations to other cities on the continent, as well as to international destinations and markets across the globe. With oversight of more than a tenth of the world’s airspace, South Africa also plays a vital role as custodian of the southern skies. As an economic multiplier, the South African civil aviation industry supports tourism, trade, commerce and industry, both domestically and beyond the nation’s borders. Some companies operating in the sector are involved in ground-breaking research in the field of aviation bio-fuel development, while others are engaged in the development of innovative applications for remotely piloted drones. South Africa’s airport network serves as a gateway into sub-Saharan Africa’s developing economies, where opportunities for charter flight operators and helicopter services, training service providers, as well as airport ground handlers are plentiful. The nation’s national flag carrier, South African Airways (SAA), is the leading airline in Africa and, as a member of Star Alliance, is part of the world’s largest international airline network. However, Africa’s aviation landscape is changing rapidly and SAA, which currently finds itself mired in debt, scandals and controversy, is facing robust challenges to its regional dominance. Despite a measure of relief offered by lower aviation fuel prices and the relaxation of certain obstructive visa conditions, many of South Africa’s private airlines remain under pressure, as they try to carve a niche in an industry characterised by anti-competitive practices.
This report focuses on the civil aviation industry in South Africa, within the broader context of intra-African and international air transportation. The sector includes the scheduled air transport industry, which comprises both passenger and cargo services, as well as the charter flight industry and general recreational aviation activities. Airport ground handling, described by some stakeholders as the ‘step-child of the aviation industry’, also falls within the scope of this report, which investigates the local market, recent developments and factors influencing the success of the industry. The report profiles a wide spectrum of notable players in the industry, including the black female-owned and operated SRS Aviation (Pty) Ltd and the fledgling low-cost airline, Fly Blue Crane.