Washington responds to SAA over Delta decision

In retaliation, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) provisionally denied South African Airways (SA, Johannesburg OR Tambo) the right to fly to co-terminal points in the United States after its South African counterpart refused to authorize Delta Air Lines. (DL, Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson) will stop in Cape Town on the return leg of its Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson-Johannesburg OR Tambo service which is scheduled to resume on August 1.

This emerged from a regulatory order dated June 15 in which the US DOT declares it “strongly disagrees” with the South African Department of Transportation (SADOT) decision and calls it an incorrect one-sided reinterpretation of the bilateral air transport agreement between the two countries. He said his attempts to dialogue with SADOT to reconcile the case had been unsuccessful, but that he would continue his efforts to resolve the issue. “If SADOT were to reconsider its position on co-terminal rights and honor its obligations under the agreement by granting Delta’s pending application, we will reconsider our interim decision,” he said.

The South African DOT was not immediately available for comment.

The US DOT noted that SAA previously had co-terminal rights with the United States, both for its own services and codeshare. This meant that he could, for example, fly from Johannesburg to New York JFK and then to Los Angeles Int’l, although he had never exercised this right in the past.

However, in light of Delta’s situation, the US DOT has provisionally denied the SAA’s request for renewal of authority to serve Los Angeles, New York, Miami Int’l, Philadelphia Int’l and Washington Dulles on a co-terminal base.

Delta is expected to return to Johannesburg with nonstop A350-900 services three times a week in August, more than a year after delaying the plan. It comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently lowered South Africa‘s COVID-19 risk alert level.

According to the US DOT, Delta, in May 2020, first asked SADOT to modify its Foreign Operator License for the Johannesburg-Cape Town co-terminal authority, which would have allowed it to stop over at Focus on the return segment of its Atlanta-Johannesburg service. Delta would not have carried local Johannesburg-Cape Town traffic on the route.

“This resulted in months of repeated requests by the carrier to secure its authority and other US government outreach efforts in support of Delta’s request, which is in accordance with rights under the (bilateral air service) agreement, which in fact allows services to be co-finalized by carriers from the two countries, ”says DOT. A year later, on May 14, 2021, SADOT informed the US DOT of its opinion that the agreement “does not confer domestic co-terminal rights to designated airlines of the two countries”, and that it had intends to reject Delta’s candidacy. “The Department believes that SADOT chose to unilaterally reinterpret the provisions of the annex to the agreement specifically to prevent Delta from exercising its bilateral right.” According to the US DOT, the bilateral air service agreement between the countries allows US airlines to operate “from one or more points in the United States via intermediate points to Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban King Shaka” .

“The US government has raised concerns with several levels and agencies of the South African government, advising them that this reinterpretation of SADOT could have possible ramifications for the authority SAA has over the ministry. The United States government has specifically informed the government of South Africa that these ramifications could include the cancellation of the SAA’s existing authority to co-terminate services in the United States. To date, the South African government has offered no meaningful response. ”

SAA is expected to restart with a healthy track record on major national roads and some regional roads in August after being under bankruptcy protection since December 2019, but is not expected to return to international roads anytime soon. The carrier’s R14 billion (US $ 988 million) debts will be discharged over the next three years through a government bailout, with Takatso – a semi-private consortium involving Johannesburg’s Global Aviation Operations (GE, Johannesburg OR Tambo ) and state-funded asset management firm Harith – is expected to inject ZAR 3 billion (USD 211 million) in working capital as part of a new strategic capital partnership that has yet to be finalized.

Meanwhile, in the same order, however, the US DOT has granted SAA permission to serve 25 US points beyond its US gateways on codeshare with a US partner airline.

It also cleared the SAA’s one-year exemption authorization to operate scheduled passenger, goods and mail and charter flights overseas (effective immediately) to its former US gateways. This means that the SAA has one year to take over any of the following:

  • Johannesburg and New York via Sal Amilcar Cabral Int’l, Cape Verde;
  • Johannesburg / Cape Town and Miami Int’l, Florida;
  • Johannesburg and Los Angeles Int’l, California (and on this route from Los Angeles, to mix blind sector traffic not flowing in foreign air transport between Johannesburg and Rio de Janeiro Int’l, Brazil);
  • Johannesburg / Cape Town via Sal Amilcar Cabral Int’l, Cabo Verde and Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson;
  • Johannesburg / Cape Town and Washington Dulles, via Ilha do Sal, Cabo Verde;
  • the US gateways of SAA and Dakar Blaise Diagne Int’l, Senegal, as an intermediary point on authorized SAA services between the United States and South Africa; and
  • US gateways from SAA and South Africa via intermediate points with local traffic rights as permitted by the agreement between the United States and South Africa and via other intermediate points without traffic rights local.

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