News broke late last week that Delta Air Lines no longer plans to include Cape Town in its plans for service to South Africa. It is easy to claim market dynamics have shifted significantly since the company initially announced plans to add the additional destination just over a year ago, forcing the shift. But that’s not the only reason the carrier decided not to fly to Cape Town. It turns out the South African government denied Delta’s application to serve the route.
Delta first applied to the SADOT for the Johannesburg-Cape Town coterminalization authority in May 2020. There followed months of repeated requests by the carrier to secure its authority and further outreach by the U.S. Government in support of Delta’s application, which is consistent with the rights under the Agreement, which in fact allows for coterminalized services by carriers of both countries. However, on May 14, 2021, the SADOT informed the Department of its view that the Agreement “does not confer domestic coterminalization rights for designated airlines of both countries,” and that it intended to deny Delta’s application.-DOT Filing rejecting a portion of SAA’s application
For its part, Delta’s revised application to the US Department of Transportation only describes “commercial, operational, and market developments making it feasible for Delta to operate a direct return routing of Atlanta-Johannesburg-Atlanta using 306-seat Airbus A350-900 aircraft,” in explaining that the Cape Town stop will no longer be included.
The decision to switch to the A350-900 was driven by Delta’s decision to retire is fleet of 777-200LRs earlier in the pandemic. Stopping in Cape Town on the way home would ease range challenges on the A350s given the “hot and high” conditions departing Johannesburg for the long flight back to Atlanta.
Reciprocity in play
As a result of South Africa denying Delta’s request the US DOT denied a similar application from South African Airways. While the South African flag carrier will be permitted to operate flights to the US, either non-stop or via Cape Verde and Dakar, it no longer has permission to operate to Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. “on a co-terminal basis.”
This means no tag-on flights between the US cities for the airline, even without carrying local traffic.
Those routes have not operated in a long time so the loss to SAA is not significant, but the US government felt compelled to reject the option in defense of Delta and the bilateral treaty between the two countries.
While our preference would be to grant SAA renewal of all of the bilaterally-authorized exemption authority it seeks, the SADOT has taken the position that the coterminalization authority sought by Delta is not provided for in the Agreement. We strongly disagree with that position, but our attempts to engage with the SADOT in order to reconcile this matter and vindicate the important U.S. bilateral right at issue have not succeeded. Therefore, in the circumstances presented, we have tentatively decided that the public interest calls for denial of the portions of SAA’s exemption renewal request… In this, we are proposing to do no more than limit SAA’s authority per its own government’s unilateral reinterpretation of the Agreement.-DOT Filing rejecting a portion of SAA’s application
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