It has been so badly mismanaged it can’t provide basic aviation services and has been downgraded.
It is supposed be an international airport and gets a cash injection of R60 million of taxpayers’ money annually, yet the Polokwane airport has been so mismanaged that it cannot provide basic safety aviation services and has been barred from receiving large commercial flights.
Last week, Airlink announced the suspension of all its flights with immediate effect, following the decategorising of the airport by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (Sacaa) on Tuesday last week.
This means the former quick flight between Johannesburg and Polokwane of approximately 65 minutes is now a more than a three-hour drive of 348km if you travel along the N1 highway.
ALSO READ: Polokwane International Airport: No soul in sight
Jacques Smalle, member of the Limpopo provincial legislature, said despite the airport initially opening in 1995 as a schedule 3 company, meaning it should be self-sufficient, it receives a financial injection of R60 million per year from the provincial government.
The empty Polokwane International Airport in Limpopo that has been downgraded from a category 7 to a category 2 airport, 13 April 2021. Picture: Jacques Nelles
“Last year, the airport showed losses up to R11.4 million and a salary bill of R29 million per year,” said Smalle.
He added the 77 employees currently working at the airport were too many for the work needed, especially after the airport was downgraded from category 7 to category 2 last week.
“It seems to me they were warned about not complying with the regulations last year,” Smalle said.
According to the audit report on the operation, the airport had a cash flow crisis and its revenue was not enough to cover costs.
“This is the only airport out of the three in Limpopo that is a state-owned entity,” said Smalle.
In the past three years, theMMC of transport in the province had been changed twice, he said.
“In other words, your accounting authority, which needs to bring stability to the board, has been replaced twice.”
The decision by Sacaa to lower the status of the airport was because it did not meet requirements for civil infrastructure, apron services and fire and rescue services.
The aerodrome quality management systems were also substandard. The communication and media relations manager for Sacaa, Kabelo Ledwaba, said the category 2 licence still allowed for private aircraft and charter operations.
“Also, you can still fly category 3 aircraft in because the regulations allow operating one category up. They do have a category 2 licence,” Ledwaba said.
“We have given Polokwane airport repeated notices to addresses the noncompliance issues, but they have failed to comply.”
Smalle said the irregular expenditure in the past five years varied between R300 000 to almost R1 million a year.
“In 2017, the department asked for a turnaround plan for the airport, which never happened,” he said.
Smalle claimed the last scheduled international aircraft that landed at the airport was during the 2010 World Cup. However, in February last year, a South African Airways (SAA) Airbus A340-600 landed there after flying from Wuhan in China to return South African expatriates as the Covid-19 emergency exploded.