Polokwane and Newcastle both want to beef up their airports – just as air travel collapses

Business Insider SA
The Polokwane and Newcastle airports
Polokwane International (left) and the Newcastle municipal airport. (Satellite images via Google Maps)
  • Both the Newcastle municipality and a Limpopo government company hope to beef up their airports – and land more scheduled flights – even as air travel all but collapses.
  • Limpopo wants more than just SA Airlink flying to Polokwane International, and hopes to turn a profit on airports in Giyani, Thohoyandou, Lephalale, and Burgersfort too.
  • Newcastle will take any regular flights it can get, though it isn't exactly optimistic about its prospects.
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As air travel collapses around the world, with airlines going out of business by the dozens and warnings that the industry may never be the same again, the governments of Limpopo and Newcastle are both looking for ways to beef up their small airports – with an eye to profit.

Gateway Airports Authority Limited (GAAL), a company of the Limpopo provincial government, is looking for help with a strategy that would include expanding the carriers with scheduled service to Polokwane International beyond just SA Airlink.

The municipality of Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal, on the other hand, will accept any scheduled flights it can get from Gauteng (Lanseria Airport or OR Tambo preferred) and from Durban.

Both Polokwane and Newcastle are between three and four hours from Johannesburg by car.

Newcastle isn't hugely or uniformly optimistic. Its local casino, Monte Vista, "believes that regular air services would substantially increase demand potential for the casino", the municipality says, and a local law firm agrees.

They appear to be in the minority.

"[M]any local businesses and tourism operators did not feel that an upgraded airport with regular services would have major impact on their existing businesses," the municipality said of its consultations.

The municipality itself is not convinced about the investment case for its airport, but reckons it is worth a shot.

Regular flights "may well be critical to attracting new investments, as air transport is seen as one of the most critical factors in location decision-making by many firms, particularly international ones," says Newcastle. "In addition, access to regular, cost effective air services is likely to increase the competitiveness of existing local firms, giving them better access both to suppliers and markets."

GAAL is little less cynical. It is looking for profitable routes for Polokwane, as well as options for its airports in Giyani, Thohoyandou, Lephalale, and Burgersfort. 

The Limpopo company is also looking for a consultant to tell it what its cash position is, and whether it has sufficient access to capital. 

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