- The United States' Delta Air Lines has been given the go-ahead to fly to Cape Town as part of a triangular route between Atlanta and Johannesburg.
- The application, first lodged in 2020, was initially denied by South Africa's department of transport, which led the US to hit back at South African Airways.
- The controversial decision to block Delta was also criticised by the Western Cape government.
- After a year of "extensive correspondence and an intergovernmental dispute process", Delta's application has finally been approved, according to the Western Cape government.
- But South Africa's department of transport says it's not aware of the decision to grant Delta access to Cape Town.
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Delta Air Lines' application to fly between Atlanta and Cape Town – via Johannesburg – has finally been approved by South Africa's government following a year-long stalemate.
As international travel continues its recovery in the wake of coronavirus-induced restrictions, international airlines are vying for lucrative new routes. Cape Town, as South Africa's tourist hotspot, is one such destination sought out by competing carriers in the US.
Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines' flights to Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport resumed in August 2021. And while the restart was welcomed, it was marred by controversy over an application for flights to Cape Town as part of a triangular route between Atlanta and Johannesburg.
Documents released by the US' department of transportation shortly before Delta resumed flights to Johannesburg revealed a regulatory stalemate.
This deadlock, blamed on South Africa's unwillingness to amend the airline's Foreign Operator's Permit, led Delta to "abandon" its bid. In turn, the US' transportation department denied coterminalisation rights previously afforded to South African Airways (SAA).
The decision to block Delta was fiercely criticised by the Western Cape government, specifically within the context of Americans being South Africa's largest tourist group in 2021.
Delta lodged a new application – running parallel to its original bid for a triangular route – for nonstop flights between Atlanta and Cape Town in February. A month later, United Airlines applied for flights between Washington DC and Cape Town, scheduled to start in November. This resulted in a tit-for-tat war of words between the two American airlines.
Delta Air Lines' application to fly a triangular route between Atlanta, Johannesburg, and Cape Town was recently approved, much to the delight of the Western Cape's embattled tourism sector.
"We regard the approval of Delta Air Lines' application to fly a triangular route between Atlanta, Johannesburg, and Cape Town as a big win and we will continue to work hard to expand 'air access' because more flights means more tourists and more tourists means more jobs in the Western Cape," said David Maynier, the provincial minister of finance and economic opportunities, on Tuesday.
"We remain committed to increasing investment, expanding trade, and scaling up tourism with the United States, and so we look forward to finally welcoming Delta Air Lines to the Western Cape."
Maynier added that Delta's approval came after "extensive correspondence and an intergovernmental dispute process" initiated by the Western Cape government.
Delta's initial application for the triangular route, lodged in 2020, requested "year-round service with seasonal flexibility to tailor capacity to demand during off-peak periods."
James Vos, mayoral committee member for economic growth and tourism at the City of Cape Town, has also welcomed the news.
“Cape Town’s economy has been given a big boost with the news of the US’ Delta Air Lines finally getting the go-ahead from the South African government to fly a triangular route between Atlanta, Johannesburg and Cape Town,” said Vos.
“This approval is a long time coming. I have written several bespoke submissions on behalf of the City to Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula and Tourism Minister Lindiwe Sisulu on this matter over the past few months.”
While Maynier and Vos have welcomed Delta’s approval, spokesperson for the department of transport Lawrence Venkile said he could neither confirm nor deny that such approval had been granted.
“The license is issued by the International Air Services Licensing Council. As far as I know, the matter is before the council [and] we’re not aware of any decision,” said Venkile on Tuesday.
South Africa’s International Air Services Licensing Council was only recently reformed, after being left vacant for a year with operating rights left in limbo.