Bronwyn Fourie

AFTER almost a year of being non-committal, the eThekwini city manager now has a deadline within which to respond to Virginia Airport operators about the non-renewal of their leases – or face court action.

City manager S’bu Sithole was handed a lawyer’s letter on January 18 on behalf of Aero Natal, one of the airport operators, and has until today to either make a decision on the lease renewals, or at least respond to the letter.

A previous letter issued by attorneys Woodhead Bigby & Irving on behalf of Aero Natal on December 20 remains unanswered.

This letter asked for clarity on the leases and expressed concern that Aero Natal was being subjected to “unfair, discriminatory and possibly unlawful” conduct at the hands of the municipality, adding that damages would be recoverable from a party that acted unlawfully.

The operators have been in limbo since last year when they were put on month-to-month leases by the municipality, despite an earlier unanimous agreement by the city council to renew their 10-year leases.

Aero Natal refused to sign the month-to-month lease as it had already signed a new 10-year lease, and was subsequently congratulated by deputy mayor Nomvuso Shaba- lala for doing so.

But soon afterwards things changed, with Sithole indicating that the municipality had other plans for the lucrative Virginia Airport site.

The operators have argued that, in the interim, they should be given leases until a suitable alternative is found.

The latest attorney’s letter last month took the matter further, stating that the purpose of the leases was to make facilities available to small aircraft operators at a secondary airport and, by doing so, the municipality discharged its constitutional duty to provide such an airport.

In circumstances in which it appeared that the council had unanimously approved the grant of leases, Aero Natal had a legitimate expectation that the municipality would act accordingly, the letter said.

But, because so much time has passed without a decision, it seemed the municipality was intent on not renewing the leases, the letter said.

If no decision was made by today, Aero Natal would start proceedings under the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act.

Municipal spokesman Thabo Mofokeng said the city was not aware of any pending court challenge, and that “no decision has been taken to evict anyone”.

“We would like to urge all parties concerned to engage with us, not only in their own interest or that of the municipality, but the city.”