Airline eyes London-Cape Town route

While negotiations are under way for Norwegian Airlines to begin operations between London Gatwick and Cape Town International Airport, red tape and policy continue to hinder progress on the route.

“We believe that connections between the UK and South Africa are still dominated by high fares and a lack of competition,” a spokesperson for Norwegian Airlines told TAM. “While a London Gatwick-Cape Town service would be a welcome addition to our network, we continue to have conversations with the South African government about the possibilities of unlocking a future service that will benefit consumers with more choice, affordable fares and a more environmentally friendly service.”

Negotiations for the route have stalled as a result of South African policy, red tape and Brexit, says Wesgro’s Cape Town Air Access project manager, David King.

Norwegian Airlines is owned in Norway but has a UK operating licence and its base of operations is at Gatwick. Because the airline has majority stakes based in Norway, the South African government will not recognise its UK operating licence, David says. While there is an agreement that Norwegian Airlines can connect with South Africa from Norway, it is not recognised as a carrier for the UK, even though the UK itself recognises it as a carrier and it operates mainly out of the UK, David says. “The current bilateral agreement does not allow for carriers to operate in South Africa from outside their principal place of ownership.

“Right now, South Africa is waiting for the UK government to apply for this exemption to be made for Norwegian Air,” he says. This process has been further delayed due to Brexit and the British government having to review each separate bilateral air agreement.

David says it is a shame that Norwegian Airlines’ potential route to Cape Town is tied up in bureaucracy and red tape. “Connectivity to Cape Town has increased a lot, but there is only one permanent carrier, British Airways, flying this route. Thomas Cook operates seasonally between November and February, but that’s all we have.

“It would be great if there was another operator. Any healthy competition between airlines is good for consumers and Cape Town, both in terms of access and fares.”