Wonderboom Airport flight schools accuse Tshwane of crippling them with new fees
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Pretoria - Flight schools at Wonderboom Airport are accusing the City of Tshwane of crippling them with new fees structures for aircraft touching the tarmac, whether landing or taking off.
They have approached the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, in an urgent bid for a reprieve.
The City has, for the first time in 40 years, increased the fees for these aircraft training future pilots to such an extent that many of the flight schools fear they will no longer be able to train pilots from this base.
In a first step victory, Judge Brenda Neukircher interdicted the City from implementing the new tariff structure relating to the training fees at the airport.
This is pending the outcome of internal review procedures between the City and the flight schools or until a court has ultimately spoken the last word on the issue. The flight schools and the City agreed to the order.
For about 40 years, flight schools paid a reduced standard monthly levy to the City regarding so-called aerodrome and terminal control area access charges, which are paid by all aircraft that take off and land, approaching or exiting a specific aerodrome.
All of the applicants in the application are flight schools and operate training facilities at the Wonderboom National Airport, where they train new pilots or aircrew.
All aerodromes in the country have a control tower, and at Wonderboom, the tower is manned by the Air Traffic and Navigation Services Company. It is entitled to charge so-called aerodrome charges and terminal control area access charges, which are paid by all aircraft that take off and land, approaching or exiting a specific aerodrome.
In the case of the Wonderboom Airport, such charges are levied by the City, and the navigation company is paid a standard monthly fee by the City.
The court was told that for the last 40 years, flight schools that operated from this airport only paid 20% of the usual fee applicable to commercial and private aircraft.
The training schools argued that the rationale for the reduced amount was simple: normal commercial or leisure aircraft pay the standard fees because take-off and landing in respect of these aircraft are far less frequent than that of flight schools, who have to train new pilots.
When one trains a new pilot, one must take off and land several times during a single day. Each training school further operates various aircraft simultaneously.
It is, therefore, that in respect of flight schools, the standard fees were not charged up to now, but rather so called “training fees” were.
At Wonderboom, this used to be, until recently, at a rate of 20% of the usual fee. At all airports throughout the country, this is the standard practice, and, at worst for flight schools, training fees are charged at 30% of the normal rate, it was argued.
The City has, with the adoption of its 2021/2022 budget, unilaterally decided to discard the training fees applicable to flight schools at Wonderboom.
The training schools told the court that the 20% increase has now spiralled to an increase of 139% per single landing, and a grounding frequency on a single landing has increased by 321%.
This, it was argued, has a catastrophic impact on each of the flight schools, in that it would be impossible for them to continue the operation of their schools and/or to provide training opportunities to prospective pilots at a reasonable rate.
It is said that it also makes pilot training unaffordable and inaccessible at Wonderboom Airport.
“The flight schools are all also tenants at the airport.
“The impact of the decision of the City may very well be that the flight schools have no choice but to pack up and leave. Save for the detrimental effect on established flight schools, it will also have a severe prejudicial financial impact on the airport,” counsel for the applicants argued.
Tshwane had not filed opposing papers, and neither did the metro notify the court of its intention to oppose the matter.
The Pretoria News reached out to the City for comment on allegations that it was crippling the flight schools out of business with unreasonable tariffs.
Spokesperson Selby Bokaba said: “Flight Training Schools at Wonderboom National Airport have for decades been given an 80% Payment Discount on standard tariffs which increases by a rate linked to the CPI year-on-year. The 80% Payment Discount was only applicable to Flight Training Schools based at Wonderboom National Airport.
“The City has, with effect from the 2021/22 financial year, withdrawn the discount implying that standard rates will apply to all operators using the Airport including the Flight Training Schools. A selected few of the Flight Training Schools based at the airport interdicted the decision by Council to withdraw the discount and the matter is before the Pretoria High Court, which the City will be defending.”