Premier calls for more Mthatha flights

Eastern Cape Premier Pumullo Masualle, accompanied by Colonel Tebogo Toodi., greets pilots at the Mthatha Airport on Saturday after the second annual air show and career expo.
Eastern Cape Premier Pumullo Masualle, accompanied by Colonel Tebogo Toodi., greets pilots at the Mthatha Airport on Saturday after the second annual air show and career expo.
Image: Ziyanda Zweni

Eastern Cape premier Phumulo Masualle wants more flights for Mthatha Airport.

Despite the government pumping more than R700-million into revamping the facility in the last five years, including a 3km runway to accommodate larger aircraft and a state-of-the-art terminal building, Mthatha residents can only catch flights to Johannesburg.

But Masualle has demanded that flights to East London, Port Elizabeth and other provinces be added.

Addressing hundreds of people, among them Eastern Cape transport MEC Weziwe Tikana, co-operative governance and traditional affairs MEC Fikile Xasa and King Sabata Dalindyebo mayor Dumani Zozo on Saturday during the second annual air show and career expo at the Mthatha Airport, the premier said there was no reason that Mthatha Airport could not offer flights to places like East London.

“I want to see other lines [operating from this airport]. There is no reason why there are no direct flights from here to Cape Town or from here to East London or Port Elizabeth,” he said.

“Lots of people still drive to East London to catch flights to other cities and find themselves in non-avoidable death traps [due to road carnage].”

Masualle said if there were flights to East London and Port Elizabeth, travelling time could be slashed to only 35 minutes.

“Some business people from here even have to drive to Cape Town sometimes which is a nightmare. It [local flights] makes up for lost time.”

Masualle called on municipal bosses at KSD and OR Tambo district municipality to use the airport as an anchor for development of Mthatha.

OR Tambo District Chamber of Business president Vuyisile Ntlabati agreed that many people had died over the years while rushing to catch flights to East London.

“You end up spending money in East London as sometimes you have to sleep there if you want to catch a flight outside of the province,” he said.

But on the brighter side, Ntlabati revealed that talks were at an advanced stage to bring another airline to offer flights to East London, Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Eastern Cape provincial transport spokeswoman Khuselwa Rantjie told the Daily Dispatch on the sidelines of Saturday’s event that they had managed to rope in the Airports Company South Africa [Acsa] to help get the Mthatha Airport to category six.

At the moment, she said it was at category four.

“This means we can only land Airlink planes and not the airbuses.”

Acsa will help bolster the profile of the airport as a significant player in regional airports, Rantjie previously told the Dispatch.

On Saturday she confirmed that there were airline companies showing an interest in operating some routes from the airport.

But the department had to first work on developing the facility so that it could be elevated to a category six airport. — sikhon@dispatch.co.za

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