Large-scale pilfering from baggage at the OR Tambo International Airport was “out of control” and threatened the country’s tourism industry as measures to control it were circumvented, Siza Mzimela, SAA’s chief executive, told the parliamentary Committee on Tourism yesterday.
She said Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), airlines and baggage handlers were all pointing fingers at each other instead of working together to solve the problem, Business Report newspaper says. Mzimela said passengers blamed SAA and other airlines they were travelling with, not realising that the baggage passed out of the airline’s control when it was handed over to the baggage-handling companies and that Acsa shared some responsibility.
She said the problem was solved temporarily during the World Cup when there had been a high security presence, but when this was relaxed, the problem returned. It was much higher than at other airports in the country and abroad. She had been told that when new baggage handlers were engaged, only about a quarter of them came without any intention to steal. New methods of prevention were devised, but within a few months, ways had been found to circumvent them.
On SAA’s performance, Mzimela said the airline brought about half of the passengers who arrived in South Africa, contributing R11.7 billion to gross domestic product through leisure and business tourism and foreign exchange earnings, and supporting 58 000 jobs.
She said although SAA had no objection to straightforward competition from British Airways, Lufthansa and other airlines offering direct flights to passengers’ final destinations, it was concerned about the number of incoming flights by airlines offering indirect flights to destinations by way of their home airports which, like Johannesburg, were being developed as international hubs, Business Report added.
Mzimela thought the authorities might not realise that these airlines, mainly from the Middle East, were taking business away from South Africa by diverting traffic away from Johannesburg to their own hub airports and were reducing the potential to grow direct services to this country.
Airlines offering these indirect flights were being allocated air traffic rights to fly into this country “far ahead of their home market origin and destination requirements”. In contrast, Canadian policy was to control air traffic rights to enter the country in proportion to real demand.
But Don Gumede, chairman of the tourism committee, said tourism had been identified in the New Growth Path as a major provider of jobs. It was the government’s view that as long as tourists arrived, it did not matter which airline was used.
Mzimela said SAA intended to introduce new routes, but some African countries were reluctant to open their skies to South Africa in an attempt to protect their national airlines from competition, although they entered into open skies agreements with other African states if their own airlines would not be affected, and to non-African states such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. There had been consolidation of airlines in open markets and as a result, South African airlines faced much larger competitors now than was the case five years ago, the paper added.