Aviation issues in the Johannesburg area: various stakeholder submissions

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04 March 2013
Chairperson: Ms N Bhengu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee had received notification of concerns about aviation problems in the Gauteng region, in particular about the near-crashes that had occurred between light and commercial aircraft recently, and called for submissions from stakeholders on safety issues. Mr Terry Bengis made a submission that stressed that there was a need to find ways to apply the aviation law with proper oversight, in a way that would allow airfields to be built with safety and understanding, and to facilitate orderly flow of traffic by all players in the industry.

Lanseria International Airport expressed concern about the uncontrolled proliferation of small airfields in close proximity to existing commercial airports. Some of the plans for expansion of Lanseria were also discussed. It had concerns that the absence of centralised coordination for policy setting, and a lack of directives, had resulted in attempts to “abuse” the National Air Space Committee (NASCOM). Current challenges were cited as an imbalance between the capacity, efficiency and access to the airport, and right-sizing the airspace would make the airport safer. Lanseria called for a moratorium on all new airport developments in the environs of existing commercial airports until a centralised framework was created.

Grand Central Airport and the Airports and Aerodromes Association shared the concerns of Lanseria, and raised questions around the way in which the Civil Aviation Authority had approved new airfields, but recommended that the moratorium on new developments be strictly defined. It also recommended that any application for new airports should first comply with the National Environmental Management Act and that approval of airport development should be a national competence.

The Department of Transport provided some background to NASCOM and said that there was in fact no proliferation of aerodromes in the Johannesburg area. The Department was currently developing a National Airports Development Plan, which would address medium to long-term planning, and the Air Traffic and Navigation Services was reviewing the Gauteng airspace to determine location and numbers of aerodromes.

Members noted that safety concerns were the prime reason for calling this meeting, although it had broadened into raising other issues. There was a real need to establish the actual and potential safety concerns, and more detail was requested on how often evasive action was needed to avoid collisions. Members were horrified to hear that planes were flying without flight plans, and to learn that developers were apparently able to follow the “unlicensed route” that would not render them subject to oversight. They wanted more detail on how NASCOM was being abused. Members questioned why, on the one hand, Lanseria had claimed that unlicensed airstrips were a problem, yet on the other hand, the Department said that there was no proliferation of these strips. A better definition was needed of “congested airspace” and the current review, only due for completion in 2014, had to be expedited. A member of the Airline Pilots Association felt it was premature to hold this meeting, said that not all stakeholders were invited, and that the Committee was not in possession of the correct information. He claimed that near-crashes had to do with pilot error, not through any fault of airports. “Safety” was a broad term that encompassed several aspects. Members felt that another meeting was necessary, and expressed their concerns about the disagreements in the industry, and the need to unpack issues properly. It was agreed that a future workshop would be arranged.

Meeting report

Aviation issues in the Johannesburg area: various stakeholder submissions
Mr Terry Bengis submission
Mr Terry Bengis, Consultant addressed the Committee about aviation problems and the need to find ways to apply aviation law with proper oversight. This would allow airfields to be built with safety and understanding and to facilitate the orderly flow of air traffic. Mr Bengis called on all players in the field of aviation to be mindful of the health of the Aviation Industry, from the international scheduled operators to domestic schedules and large charter operators, including recreational flyers. The system needed to be carefully analysed, and the health of the industry needed to be nurtured and grown to provide support to South Africa’s trade at all levels. (see document)

Lanseria International Airport submission
Mr Gavin Sayce, Chief Executive Officer, Lanseria International Airport, presented the submission expressing concern on the uncontrolled proliferation of small airfields in relative close proximity to existing commercial airports. Although Lanseria International Airport (LIA) was being looked at specifically, there were similar and comparable difficulties at a number of other airports under the control of Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) as well as other non-ACSA airports, such as Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport. The future of LIA was discussed, including the further expansion elements being planned to ensure volume growth and the maintenance of operational efficiency.

Mr Sayce provided a description of an airport and the infrastructural facilities like runways, taxiways, terminal buildings, hangars, fuel storage and control towers. (see diagram on page 8 of the attached presentation). He noted that the absence of centralised coordination for policy setting, and a lack of directives, had resulted in attempts to “abuse” the National Air Space Committee (NASCOM) by new and existing entrants.

Mr Sayce noted that the current challenges included an imbalance between the capacity, efficiency and access to the airport between the two opposite approaches to the main runway; and said that right-sizing the airspace would also make the airport safer in general terms for the larger passenger aircraft. He said that Lanseria was calling for a moratorium to be placed on all new airport developments that were proposed in the environs of existing commercial airports, until such time as the centralised framework had been created and was ready to be implemented.

Uncontrolled Airports, Grand Central Airport (Pty) Ltd briefing:
Mr Gary Renault, President: Airport and Aerodromes Association of South Africa, said that the Grand Central Airport (Pty) Ltd and Members of the Airports and Aerodromes Association of South Africa (AAA-SA) shared the concerns of Lanseria International Airport (LIA). The concerns related to the manner in which new airfield developments had been approved by the South African Civil Aviation Authority. The feeling was that this matter needed urgent attention. The company recommended that the moratorium placed on ‘all new airport developments’ needed to be clarified, so that it was related specifically to unlicensed/registered airports or proposed new airports. (see document: Letter to Terry Bengis)

Mr Renault said that any airport that was being built required some kind of environmental approval. The International Environmental Management Act was a very important piece of legislation. He had been involved in two major airport developments, which had both undergone the most strict environmental impact assessment tests, which included the construction of air space around airports.  When building an airport, the first requirement should be compliance to the National Environmental Management Act, which would then ensure that it followed the route for approval by the Civil Aviation Authority. Mr Bengis said that, in the interests of aviation, approval should be a national competence. A core requirement for airport development, including those currently under development, should be compliance with the National Environmental Management Act. This would require the approval of the National Aviation Authority as well as Air Traffic Navigation Services.

It appeared that airports had not been approved correctly, or were not being controlled correctly, even though aviation by its very nature had to be controlled.

Mr I Ollis (DA) interjected to ask if the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) was present and if its view was going to be presented.  

The Chairperson said that the area would be covered by the Department of Transport.

Mr Ollis commended the Committee for putting aside party political differences and focussing on the important issue of safety.

Department of Transport briefing:
Mr Zakhele Thwala, Deputy Director-General: Aviation, Department of Transport, briefed the Committee on aviation issues in the Johannesburg area and provided a background to the National Airspace Committee (NASCOM). Mr Thloaca said that there was currently no proliferation of aerodromes in the Johannesburg area. The Department of Transport (DoT or the Department) was currently in the process of developing a National Airports Development Plan (NADP). This would, amongst other issues, address medium to long-term planning of the airport network. The Air Traffic and Navigation Services Company (ATNS) had embarked on the review of the Gauteng airspace, which would inform the location and the number of aerodromes that could be accommodated in the future. (see attached document for more details)

Mr G Krumbock (DA) said that this meeting was called because of the safety issues that had been brought to the attention of the Committee, and he was very keen to get an idea of what the actual and potential safety concerns really were. He referred to the near-collision cited by Mr Bengis in his presentation document, but wanted to know how often this actually happened.  He asked further what the feeling of the aviation community present was on how often evasive action needed to be taken by large commercial airlines, to avoid collisions with smaller aircrafts.

Mr Krumbock made the point that the review that the Air Traffic Navigation Services (ATNS) was currently conducting, and which was scheduled to end in 2014, may need to be expedited. The presentations cited several urgent problems that needed to be resolved.

Mr Krumbock said that he was struggling to come to terms with what both the aviation industry and the Department referred to as “unlicensed airports”. He expressed horror that there were planes flying around without flight plans. He referred to a paragraph on page 9 of the presentation by Lanseria International Airport, which stated: “A developer can elect to follow the unlicensed route, in which case he will not be required to deal with any aviation authority such as the SACAA. If he does follow this route then these airfields are not subject to any regulatory/safety/security oversight”. He called for further explanation on this point.

Mr Krumbock also asked for an explanation about the statement on page nine of the presentation which said that “the absence of centralised coordination for policy setting and lack of directives has resulted in the NASCOM being ‘abused’ or attempted to be abused by new and existing entrants”. This paragraph did not explain in which way NASCOM was being abused, so he requested to hear some concrete examples if the abuse.

Mr Krumbock said that he echoed the sentiments of the Chairperson that this was a well prepared presentation. The thrust of the matters were the safety issues and unlicenced airports, which were repeated by several people throughout the meeting. However, he referred to the DoT presentation, which had stated categorically that there was no proliferation in Gauteng of unlicensed airstrips in Gauteng, and asked why in this case it was claimed that the unlicensed strips were said to be such a problem.

Mr I Ollis (DA) was worried about several points. Firstly, the document of the DoT stated that there was no requirement for compulsory licences or registration until operators were flying in areas of congested airspace. Page 18 of the presentation referred to “unlicensed airports” near Lanseria. Surely, if there were operators there, they were operating in “congested airspace”. He asked for a definition of what “congested airspace” included, and asked if there was any airspace over Johannesburg that could be regarded as not congested. The definitions may need to be reviewed. There seemed to be a proliferation of small plans, and perhaps more consideration needed to be given to defining matters more specifically, or enlarging upon what was “congested” in Gauteng.

Mr Ollis asked for an explanation of the status of Wonderboom, Grand Central and Rand airports.

Mr Nico van Staden, Airline Pilots Association of South Africa, said that there was a huge amount of expertise in the aviation enterprise. He felt that calling this meeting was premature, as the matters had not been explored thoroughly with all aviation role players. With due respect, he said that the Committee had not been given all the necessary information, nor would it have had the time to study the situation properly, before the meeting. Mr van Staden said that the root cause of the problem had to be found. The word “safety” was a huge issue in the aviation industry, but was being loosely thrown around here. He said that he did not know why more players had not been invited to this meeting, as there was the impression created that it had been kept under cover and there was lack of transparency and due regard for all roleplayers; some other stakeholders had requested that this message be conveyed to the Committee.

Mr van Staden noted that, in regard to incursions into controlled airspace, the blame must be laid squarely with the pilot, as the problem did not lie with the airport. General aviation, like any other industry, has as many rights as commercial aviation. He repeated that if there were incorrect incursions, the problem was with the pilot.

Ms N Ngele (ANC) asked what the names were of the two proposed new airports referred to on page 12 of the presentation.

Ms D Dlakude (ANC) thanked the Airline Pilots Association of South Africa (APASA) for clarifying some of the issues. She agreed that a meeting such as this should have involved all the role players, and suggested that perhaps another day should be allocated for another meeting that would accommodate everyone.

Mr Bengis said that this meeting had not been hidden from anybody, as a direct request had been made to him to deal with specific issues. It was not said that general aviation should be restricted in any way. The problem was the proliferation of unlicensed airports. This issue manifested itself all over the country. A lot was being misread into the issues. The main thrust of this meeting was to discuss a  specific problem, but the discussions had now highlighted other problems.

Mr Charles Norvil, Senior Manager, Lanseria International Airport, said that the ATNS had an enviable world safety record, comparable to Lanseria, with 1.8 per 100 000 movements. It was not the purpose of the discussion to look at whether or not to have new airports in specific areas. For that, people wanted a participative process. He made the point that pilots may infringe on airspace when they became lost, but they did not get lost on purpose.

With regard to the suggestion that Lanseria International Airport wanted to be the ‘big brother’, Mr Norvil said that in November 2011, Lanseria had asked for a consultation with industry about how to arrive at a winning solution.  

Mr L Suka (ANC) asked the Chairperson for direction in this meeting and suggested that another meeting be held with all roleplayers.

Mr Ollis said that he was shocked to find about the fights between airports, but it would be a waste of the Committee’s time to discuss this now. He agreed with Mr Suka that a meeting should be held at another time, to take this issue forward. The Department had been requested to investigate the issue of air spaces applied for, and what had been regulated. This meeting was specifically set up to  deal with the issue of air safety in Gauteng, as instances had come to light about near crashes between aircrafts. 

Mr P Mbhele (COPE) expressed agreement with Ms Dlakude that a follow-up meeting should be held with all stakeholders.  

Mr Krumbock was disappointed with the comments made. It was necessary for this Committee to raise issues as it saw fit, and the reason for calling the meeting could not be ignored. There was a specific comment on page 11 that there had been a number of airspace violations and infringements by small light aircraft, and that could not be ignored. There was so much disagreement that a follow-up meeting was needed, involving as many role players as possible, to unpack the issues properly.

The Chairperson apologised to those who did not get a chance to speak, but assured the meeting that there would be a follow-up meeting, in the format of a workshop, to take forward issues unresolved in this meeting. This meeting had opened the door, as the debates held today had not been anticipated. The Committee should conduct its own research, to get an in depth understanding of the issues. All participants were thanked for their contributions.  

The meeting was adjourned.


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