Fikile Mbalula satisfied that OR Tambo is ready for domestic flights

03 June 2020 - 18:05 By Nomahlubi Jordaan
It's all systems go at OR Tambo International Airport as domestic flights resume under level 3 of the lockdown.
It's all systems go at OR Tambo International Airport as domestic flights resume under level 3 of the lockdown.
Image: ACSA

Transport minister Fikile Mbalula says he is satisfied with the measures put in place at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg as domestic travel resumes in level 3 of the lockdown.

Airports Company SA (Acsa) CEO Mpumi Mpofu accompanied Mbalula on Wednesday as he tested the airport’s state of readiness in anticipation of a gradual increase in air travel for business purposes over the next few weeks.

The company said it had put in place “extensive” physical measures, standard operating procedures and staff training necessary to give effect to level 3 lockdown regulations.

Mbalula's tour of the airport took him through each stage of the passenger’s journey: from arrival at the airport, through access control and screening, to check-in, security checkpoints and to the boarding of an aircraft.

The company said it had implemented that same protocols and procedures across its three airports that reopened this week; OR Tambo International, Cape Town International and King Shaka International.

“I am satisfied that the airport [OR Tambo] has started out well and we expect this to continue,” said Mbalula.

The minister said airports and airlines would have to demonstrate that they could effectively implement level 3 regulations.

“The resumption of flight operations will happen under strict conditions on level 3, as announced,” he said.

“Limited domestic air travel for business will be allowed, subject to restrictions on the number of flights per day and authorisation based on the reason for travel. The resumption of domestic flights will be rolled out in three phases.”

These are the airports that will reopen under each phase:

Phase 1

  • OR Tambo International Airport;
  • Cape Town International Airport;
  • King Shaka International Airport; and
  • Lanseria International Airport.

Phase 2

  • Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport;
  • Polokwane International Airport; and
  • Bram Fischer Airport.

Phase 3

  • Kimberley Airport;
  • Upington Airport;
  • East London Airport;
  • Mthatha Airport; and
  • Port Elizabeth Airport.

Mbalula said the government understood the need to gradually open the economy and was balancing this with safety and good health.

“Now that we have started with opening up aviation, we must look ahead with determination in order for the transport sector to perform its vital economic role,” he said.

Mpofu said she was confident that airports would be safe for employees and passengers as the company started preparing for the eventual reopening almost as soon as the national lockdown was implemented.

“During the period of travel restrictions, we began developing plans and protocols with Airports Council International and the International Air Transport Association. The measures we have in place are therefore aligned to the standards recently set out by international aviation organisations,” said Mpofu.

“Conforming to global standards is essential for airports, particularly when we eventually reach a point where the government can consider opening up airports for international travel.”

Mpofu cautioned that the process of reopening airports in a way that maximised safety should not be considered a binary contest between combating Covid-19 and maintaining a functioning economy.

“The reality is that we have to learn to do both and do them well. For us, reopening airports in a safe way is just the first step. We aim to be a leader and catalyst in the aviation sector through the recovery,” she said.

“In acting on this goal, we will all need to give the greatest attention to what we can do, rather than the constraints that face all of us.”