Steer clear: A US military helicopter lands in Green Point, Cape Town, last month during US President Barack Obama's visit. Picture: David Ritchie
Steer clear: A US military helicopter lands in Green Point, Cape Town, last month during US President Barack Obama's visit. Picture: David Ritchie

Helicopter operators in tailspin

By Time of article published Jul 15, 2013

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Cape Town - Helicopter tour operators at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town have their blades in a twist over lost income as a result of airspace restrictions during the recent visit by US President Barack Obama.

During the South African leg of their African tour, the Obama family visited Robben Island, which prompted the air force to impose restrictions on the airspace over the waterfront.

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association president Koos Marais said operators had been assured by the air force that there would be no restrictions.

But, he said, two tour operators, one of them Sport Helicopters, had to cancel planned tours for the day and refund customers.

The restrictions had lasted until late in the afternoon, when the Obamas, accompanied by five helicopters, left the island.

Sport Helicopters operates tours from the waterfront.

 

Marais said he had phoned Brigadier-General Les Lombard of the air force to ask “if there would be any funny nonsense like that”.

“Lombard had said there would be no restrictions,”

said Marais.

“We were surprised about what happened. We are most disgusted at the way this was done. They deprived those people of business.”

He said if they had been notified earlier about the restrictions, operators would have made a plan.

Asked what action the operators now planned to take, Marais said: “How do you take action against a whole government and the air force?”

 

Die Burger reported that two days before Obama’s visit to Robben Island, the Civil Aviation Authority had issued a notice to pilots to fly no closer than 1.8km from any of the US aircraft, otherwise they would be considered a security risk.

South African Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson Phindiwe Gwebu said there was nothing strange about airspace being restricted for heads of state. She said the restrictions had been imposed by the air force.

The Star’s sister paper, the Cape Times, was unable to get comment from the air force.

According to the report in Die Burger, Sport Helicopters had lost about R100 000 when it refunded 76 tourists for a tour of the Peninsula.

Owner Robert Macdonald did not want to comment. – The Star

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