The tit-for-tat spat between South Africa and Delta intensified yesterday with government insiders claiming that the airline needed to stick to the foreign operator's permit to allow it a stop in Cape Town on the return segment of its Atlanta-Johannesburg service. Picture: Quintin Soloviev/Wikimedia Commons
The tit-for-tat spat between South Africa and Delta intensified yesterday with government insiders claiming that the airline needed to stick to the foreign operator's permit to allow it a stop in Cape Town on the return segment of its Atlanta-Johannesburg service. Picture: Quintin Soloviev/Wikimedia Commons

SA is standing firm in spat with Delta Airlines on Cape Town route

By Banele Ginindza Time of article published Jun 25, 2021

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THE TIT-FOR-TAT spat between South Africa and Delta intensified yesterday with government insiders claiming that the airline needed to stick to the foreign operator's permit to allow it a stop in Cape Town on the return segment of its Atlanta-Johannesburg service.

Officials of the Department of Transport accused Delta Airlines of bullying and dictating the terms in the domestic market.

The officials said there were not only issues of inexistent bilateral agreements but that Delta wanted to dictate terms of its operations against the country's interests.

“Everyone wants to land and pick up passengers in Cape Town. That though kills the market for Johannesburg and Durban respectively,“an official who spoke on condition of anonymity told Business Report.

”If you go to the United Kingdom for instance, when there are no slots in Heathrow, they will direct you to subsidiary airports like Gatwick so they generate business as well.

“Delta wants to have its way here without consideration of the domestic market,” officials who would not be quoted said.

An official said the issue was ideally one that required discussions between the South African and United States governments.

He said South Africa was overly friendly with its bilateral agreements which left local industries struggling on reciprocating as other countries were tougher.

Delta's flights to Joburg are operated in partnership with Air France, KLM and Virgin Atlantic. Customers can also reach South Africa via Delta's

European hubs in Paris and Amsterdam.

Delta, which previously had an Atlanta-to-Cape Town direct flight, was disrupted by the Covid-19 outbreak early last year.

The department said that Delta, like all other foreign carriers, had to comply with flying to the capital and then picking up passengers only at subsidiary airports, not be operational in all major airports because that distorted the domestic market.

“It cannot be that they want the upper hand and tell us what to do. This is more than a bilateral agreements issue, it is an issue about compliance. Delta does not want to do that,” another official said.

Officials said Delta, which over the weekend announced securing the Atlanta-Johannesburg route, did not currently have similar official approval for Cape Town and had resorted to

threatening a backlash against SAA, which is the only national carrier that goes to the United States.

SAA aviation expert Jahid Malik said the proposed deal was a good one if it happened with mutual respect.

“It must be bilaterals against bilaterals. This is a matter that could possibly be sorted in a matter of hours between representatives of the different governments,” Malik said.

Delta said the Joburg flights would operate using the Airbus A350-900, marking the debut of one of Delta's newest aircraft in its fleet between the US and South Africa.

Yesterday, Western Cape MEC for Finance and Economic Opportunities David Maynier accused the department of deliberately circling red tape around the deal.

But independent aviation analyst Phuthego Mojapele said Delta's access to the South African market, while a positive for aviation, was not all that beneficial economically.

“It is unlikely that South African aviation will benefit from this. Some sectors, perhaps like tourism, may benefit, catering even, but they are bringing their own technical expertise. South Africa is not going to be benefiting from this,” Mojapele said.

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