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Kimberly - Questions surrounding the details of a new partnership between the Northern Cape provincial government and Phakalane Airways to transport government officials to remote areas of the Northern Cape, remained unanswered on Wednesday.
The intra-provincial flight service was launched in Kimberley and Upington on Wednesday.
The Department of Transport, Safety and Liaison did not respond to media inquiries regarding this public-private partnership or divulge any details on the memorandum of agreement that was entered into.
Questions to the department included whether there would be any government funding, why Phakalane Airways was chosen as a partner, whether the tender was advertised and whether there was any connection between the airline and any government official.
The department was also asked if there was any specific reason why the flights were routinely landing in Upington – the home town of Premier Sylvia Lucas, MEC for the Finance, Economic Affairs and Tourism John Block, the MEC for the Department of Transport, Roads and Public Works, Mac Jack, and MEC for Education, Grizelda Cjiekella-Lecholo.
The entire provincial cabinet and other officials took the aircraft for its maiden flight to Upington.
However, entering the doorway of the aircraft proved somewhat of a struggle for some dignitaries of wider girth, who had to hoist themselves with difficulty up the narrow stairway.
Premier Sylvia Lucas had to be assisted once she had reached the top to make a 360 degree turn, bending her head backwards, to manoeuvre herself around in order to lean out of the aircraft to wave at the small crowd.
The airline advertised that it would start flight operations on February 3.
Bookings, according to the airline, can be made on the website www.phakalaneairways.co.za as from Monday.
There was no response on the listed landline – 053 492 0001 – on Wednesday.
Scheduled flights will be chartered from Kimberley to Upington and Springbok while non-scheduled flights will travel to Calvinia, De Aar, Kuruman, Sishen and Lanseria.
CEO of Phakalane Airways, Captain Allan Roebuck, said that they had entered into a one-year pilot contract with the department after being awarded a tender.
He said that the contract that was entered into was a private matter that could not be discussed without permission from government.
He said a flight school would be opened in conjunction with the Department of Education as well as the Department of Transport, Roads and Public Works, in Kimberley to train disadvantaged members of the community to become pilots.
“Two flights will depart from Kimberley to Upington at 6am and 3.30pm and from Upington to Kimberley from 7.30am and 5pm.”
The price for a round trip to Upington is R4 750, R8 500 to Springbok while flights can also be arranged on request based on the kilometres travelled and amount of passengers to other destinations.
The 19-seater and an eight-seater aircraft will be flown by four pilots.
The aircraft that bears the provincial government’s logo will be based at the Kimberley Airport.
Satellite offices will be opened in Upington and Springbok and will be run by six staff members.
The airline will also offer flights to the private sector, business as well as municipalities, the mining sector and members of the public.
Roebuck said the airline was a private entity that did not receive funds from government.
“Government is our strategic partner.”
He said that government officials could also make use of the airline for their personal use and could book in their private capacity.
Roebuck maintained that there was no link between his company and any state official.
He indicated that the airline was an economy class category that offered light refreshments to passengers.
The MEC for Transport, Safety and Liaison, Mac Jack ,estimated that the flights would be 75 percent more affordable than commercial flights.
He indicated that this partnership would reduce road fatalities, road travelling costs and increase time efficiency.
Lucas highlighted how traffic congestion challenges, the poor condition of many roads, especially in rural areas, justified the need for a reliable air service.
“This milestone initiative stems from the need to provide the Northern Cape communities with a reliable, affordable and efficient transport air service after feasibility studies were commissioned thereby identifying a critical gap in the market.
“These new flights will provide people in the Northern Cape with a fast, reliable and safe air service and give travellers more options of travelling between the towns.”
She added that air transport would stimulate the economy, job creation and create better accessibility to markets and investments.
“The new air service will inspire and motivate young people to become pilots and provide accessible transport for hunters and tourists.”
Lucas urged local businesses and members of the public to support the airline.
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