Wonderboom International Airport is under the spotlight after it emerges that the SA Civil Aviation Authority has ordered for a temporary closure of the facility. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)
Wonderboom International Airport is under the spotlight after it emerges that the SA Civil Aviation Authority has ordered for a temporary closure of the facility. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

Tshwane’s plans for Wonderboom airport dealt blow as all night flights grounded

By Rapula Moatshe Time of article published Mar 12, 2021

Share this article:

Pretoria - The City of Tshwane's plans of changing the fortunes of the embattled Wonderboom National Airport were this week dealt a serious blow by the SA Civil Aviation Authority's (SACAA) decision to ground all flights scheduled at night due to faulty runaway lighting.

This followed an ad hoc inspection conducted on Tuesday by the aviation authority, which discovered that the runway, threshold and end lights were in bad working condition.

Aviation spokesperson, Kabelo Ledwaba, said it was also found that the airport was non-compliant with the rescue and fire-fighting requirements.

Although it was unclear when the airport would repair the lights, Ledwaba said the aviation would visit the facility to validate and lift the suspension "if all concerns have been addressed".

He said: "Resources and spares have an impact in terms of how long it takes to get facilities up to the required standard."

Asked whether the airport risked having its operating licence taken away due to disregard of infrastructure maintenance, he said: "Wonderboom Airport currently holds a category 2 airport licence as they meet all the requirements for this licence category."

The temporary closure for all night flights comes three months after the City expressed optimism about reclaiming the airport's category 5 status after it was downgraded to level 2 for non-compliance with the aerodrome licence regulations in 2019.

At the time roads and transport MMC Dikeledi Selowa said she believed the airport was a strategic asset to the City, and normal operations ought to be revived.

Chief of staff, Jordan Griffiths, said the City welcomed the continuous oversight by the authority as a critical stakeholder in assessing airport operations.

According to him, the runway lighting system was operative albeit old and in need of replacement.

"Constant intermittent failures of certain lighting – such as the threshold and end lights on the runway, is as a result a recurring fault which is being addressed swiftly when experienced," he said.

Griffiths said the City was already working to revamp the entire airfield lighting system between the current and the next financial year.

In the past, the airport used to hold category 5 status, but it decided to "self-downgrade" to category 2 "in acknowledgment of the existing non-compliances", according to Ledwaba.

Griffiths said the airport category was not at stake because of the runway lighting, saying the category was mainly determined by the facility's rescue and firefighting capability.

He said the speed of repairing the lights was "heavily dependent on the availability of parts in the local market – majority of which are imported".

"It only takes a day to repair and calibrate the lights upon their availability,"he said.

He said all night operations would resume as soon as the parts are sourced, repaired and calibration is done and the SACAA had verified that the non-compliance has been addressed adequately.

The Pretoria News has reliably learnt that some lights have been broken for at least seven months, according to screen shots obtained from the airport WhatsApp group called local runaway safety team.

A group member, who didn't want to be identified for fear of victimisation, said complaints were previously raised with management without success.

Responding to concerns in the chat group on November 25 last year, airport manager Nnditsheni Madavha, said: "Colleagues, I am noting the problem raised here and the urgency it deserves. (I) will attend to it."

However, to date no work had been done to repair the runaway lights.

In an internal memo sent to staff and airport tenants this week, Madavha assured them that the management was giving the aviation notice "the highest order of detail and attention by committing all the resources at its disposal in resolving this matter expeditiously".

"The suspension is regrettably unfortunate and we plead with all affected operators to lend us the patience and time to swiftly resiliate," read the memo in part.

On Tuesday, mayor Randall Williams signed a memorandum of understanding with Airports Company South Africa "to advance the operations" of the airport.

Former mayor Stevens Mokgalapa contemplated selling or leasing out the airport because he deemed it to be a liability.

Pretoria News

Share this article: