File picture: Independent Media

Pretoria - More than two years after then Minister of Home Affairs and now Minister of Finance, Malusi Gigaba gave Oppenheimer-owned  Fireblade Aviation the go-ahead to operate an international customs and immigration service at OR Tambo International Airport, the first international flights at this terminal were processed last week.

It took Fireblade months of fighting fierce legal battles, despite numerous judgments in its favour, before it could eventually start operating from OR Tambo.

Gauteng High Court, Pretoria Judge Sulet Potterill in October last year gave Fireblade the green light  to run the customs and immigration services.

But despite various court applications, mainly brought by the Department of Home Affairs in its attempts to appeal Judge Potterill’s ruling, and undertakings made by it that the company could go ahead with the running of its VVIP centre, Fireblade was still not able to do so until now.

Although the department and Fireblade had reached an agreement  that it would be all systems going, the company at the end of December once again had to turn to court for an urgent order allowing it to operate.

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The latest reason for the delay was due to technical reasons on the side of home affairs, which said a specific IT system had to be in place before it could render custom services from this terminal.

But the company had now confirmed that it is all systems go. 

Fireblade said in a statement that the seven-star facility last week successfully handled international tourists arriving in South Africa. It regarded this as a significant milestone following its uphill battle with government.

Home affairs, the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and the police were, among others, on site at the Fireblade terminal to provide the required government clearance for the international flights.

The Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) meanwhile said there were several benefits to having fully operational international border control capabilities at Fireblade. 

It said the main terminal at OR Tambo will be freed up for additional capacity when commercial business aviation can use the Fireblade terminal. 

It will also reduce runway crossings  and thus improve safety and reduce departing and arrival times for aircraft.

Judge Potterill last year ruled that Gigaba did give the Oppenheimers, through Fireblade, permission to run the customs and immigration services at the airport.

The Oppenheimers lodged their application after Gigaba denied that he had given them permission in January 2016 to go ahead with their plans.

They argued that Gigaba went back on his word after Denel suddenly cited security concerns over the proposed terminal.

Fireblade  argued that the Guptas were behind the backtracking.  

Judge Potterill, however, concluded that Gigaba’s approval was “of force and effect and may not be revoked without due cause”.

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Pretoria News