We all know where the airport is situated. Some facts about it are: It is 66 Ha in extent with an elevation of 450ft. It has a single tarred runway that is 1240m long and 20m wide. There are 42 privately owned hangars situated on the airfield and it is an uncontrolled airfield, meaning no active controlling, with pilots broadcasting their position on a common frequency. There are no runway lights, and there is a single NDB (Non-Directional Beacon) for basic non precision approaches. At present it is licensed RFF (Rescue and Fire Fighting) Category 4 – sufficient for scheduled aircraft up to the size of Cemair’s Dash 8 aircraft.
To put our airfield into perspective – Margate airport also has a single runway of 1344m x 30 m with a single NDB but has pilot-controlled runway lighting.
At present the airport, which falls under the Dept of Community Services within the Municipality, has what appears to be an excessive staff compliment, for the amount of traffic handled. There is a Senior Operations Officer, Mr. Davidson, who oversees the daily operations. There are 2 General Assistants, 1 Admin Clerk, 4 refuellers/marshalers/baggage handlers and 1 General Assistant/Cleaner. The budget for 2019/2020 is R5.73 million for Operational Expenditure (including salaries) and R39 500 for Capital Expenditure (a new Guard House). With R3 million of revenue, due to relatively little coming in in the way of landing fees, hangar rentals and fuel sales, it is operating at a significant loss.
Of course, the big question on everyone’s minds is, when are we going to get a scheduled airline back to service Plett? We, as the Ratepayers’ Association, met with Cemair recently. They have finally got the vindictive and inefficient CAA to restore the Operating Certificate for their B1900’s. They are planning to slowly build up their operations again, perhaps starting with the Cape Town-Plett-Cape Town route. This means re-staffing 2 offices and getting some sort of agreement with the Bitou Council, amongst a host of other administrative issues. Getting public confidence back is another major hurdle.
So, the reality is that if Cemair doesn’t do it, there is currently not another airline that has the right type of aircraft or will to start a scheduled service to Plett, being a difficult route to make any profit, due to the seasonal nature of the operation.
Lack of fuel at the airport is another major concern at present. The supply contract with BP expired and the Council, after putting it out to tender, selected EML Energy, a dodgy outfit with a known history of non-performance and run by a high-flying music promoter, to supply fuel. Between the Ratepayers’ Association and Councillor Dave Swart, we managed to get this stopped. The Council is currently in the process of finding someone to supply fuel on a short-term basis whilst the long-term supply goes out to tender again.
Another contentious issue is the Sub-Fire Station at the airport. The contractor awarded the tender to builders, walked off the job last year without having completed it, after, believe it or not, having been paid in full!! Legal proceedings were instituted, but it now appears as if the same contractor has struck a deal with the Council not to prosecute, in exchange for finishing the job. Will we ever see the job properly completed? The writer thinks this is too much of a Fairy Tale.
Long term management of the airport is another complex question that the Council is trying to deal with. We hope to be able to report on this in the not too distant future. In the meantime, we as the RPA will continue to monitor, and assist where we can, in all matters pertaining to the airport.
Plett Ratepayers Association
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