May 2022 – There are welcome indications that general aviation in South Africa is bouncing back strongly to pre-Covid levels. However, the pandemic has weeded out the weaker players in the industry – letting only the fittest survive.

ONE of the most welcome survivorsof the pandemic has been regional airline CemAir. Compared to the protracted fight for its continued existence with the CAA in 2018, it has made comparatively light work of not just surviving, but actually thriving, on the back of the Covid lockdown and the blight on air travel.

In our interview with CemAir CFO Dr Laura van der Molen, in FlightCom page 12, she describes how the airline is expanding its fleet and forging new interline and codeshare agreements (even with SAA). It is growing to become a true network airline, and for good measure is expanding into a new head office.

In general aviation (GA) a most encouraging sign of the strength of the GA’s recovery is the strong rebound experienced by Rand Airport. General Manager Stuart Coetzee says that in March 2022 the airport’s operations levels were almost back to pre-Covid levels.

Rand is an excellent indicator of the resilience of the GA sector as it hosts most of the components of GA. It hosts air charter operators, flying schools and a number of aircraft maintenance organisations, as well as pilot shops, car hire and other enterprises.

In an interview on page 88 of SA Flyer, Rand General Manager Stuart Coetzee says that the Covid pandemic impacted general aviation hard, and Rand had its fair share of the economic damage. A number of long-established businesses such as car rental companies closed shop and many tenants struggled to pay their rent.

Even though the threat of further Covid lockdowns may be receding, there is concern that a fifth wave may push back the recovery. Fortunately, the airport’s finances are healthy, due to the prescient development of an industrial park on the airport’s land.

Demand for the airport’s facilities by the GA industry is strong. Coetzee says that there are currently no vacant hangars and all office space is fully let, with a waiting list. This is not only due to the recovery of aviation businesses on the airport, but the movement of large operators from other airports around Gauteng to the more friendly and central environment that Rand provides.

However, the GA recovery in 2022 has not been plain sailing. Notable problems have been the BP fuel contamination saga which limited flying. Compounding this is the large increase in the cost of fuel, to near 33 % over just the past three months.

Other challenges faced by GA in its recovery relate to the weather, which in Gauteng has been particularly wet and windy. Yet, despite these setbacks, the price of used GA aircraft is shooting up and the industry looks set to recover fully. There really is a new dawn on the horizon.