Termination of CemAir’s Plett operations withdrawn

The Bitou Municipality has withdrawn, with immediate effect, its termination notice to CemAir to cease operations at Plettenberg Bay Airport, following a meeting between Bitou’s executive management and CemAir on March 22.

The initial notice was issued last week, instructing the carrier to cease operations immediately and vacate the premises within 30 days. This was due to a breach of agreement with the municipality, which constituted a failure to honour a R30 000 (€2 000) monthly fee for use of the airport. The airline refuted this allegation and challenged the council to produce evidence of such an agreement. It further stated that “the agreement outlined the terms of use of the aerodrome and gave CemAir use of the facilities at no cost”. “Little maintenance had been performed at the airport in the previous decade and substantial improvements were required. The no-fee structure was an essential prerequisite for CemAir to launch the service and make the necessary infrastructural upgrades to the airport. The entire cost of restoring the facility rested with CemAir. Everything, from the paint on the walls, to repairs of the roof, to the installation of the gate onto the apron, was provided by CemAir.” The carrier stated that in February 2017 it had proposed new terms for use of the airport which included a five-year minimum lease and a fixed fee arrangement to be governed by a new formal agreement.

A public outcry on social media and strong criticism from Plett Tourism to the termination notice, resulted in the municipality withdrawing the notice. Plett Tourism said it had not been consulted prior to the municipality’s decision, and it was concerned that the town’s marketability as a tourist destination would take a knock. Plett Tourism Chairman, Peter Wallington, said the airline had made a difference to the town “in many ways – obviously for tourism, [because] it broadens our appeal if visitors are able to fly in and out of town”, and he welcomed the lifting of the termination notice. “We look forward to the establishment of certainty around the airport and its usage. Users of the airport need that certainty to properly plan their activities, especially where it concerns the transporting of visitors in and out of Plett. The municipality needs that certainty to get its due in terms of fees and the honouring of other commitments.”

The following decisions were made in the meeting between management and CemAir:

  • Suspension of activities withdrawn with immediate effect subject to the submission of South African Civil Aviation Authority approval certificates regarding the airworthiness of the aircraft being used by CemAir
  • The carrier may use the airport as a normal client or user would, paying the applicable landing and parking fees
  • The matter of passenger fees payable would be investigated, with a report to be submitted by CemAir indicating the carrier’s contribution in this regard
  • That the municipality has acknowledged CemAir’s dispute of its account
  • The acting municipal manager put forward a comprehensive report to council, detailing the chronology of events since CemAir commenced with its operations at the airport in March 2014
  • And that the report would include CemAir’s dispute of the account owing to the alleged absence of an agreement. The report “will include the aspect of the account being disputed as a result of an alleged absence of an agreement,” said Municipal Spokesman, Manfred van Rooyen.

CemAir has, over the past four years, conducted more than 3 500 flights and carried over 65 000 passengers to and from Plettenberg Bay. 

Tourism Update

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