Airlink flights to Madagascar have remained banned for more than six months because of an unresolved spat between the Indian Ocean Island state and South Africa. South Africa’s ambassador to Madagascar, Sisa Ngombane, confirmed on Monday that Madagascar’s civil aviation authorities had, on Saturday 15 October, renewed the ban on South African aircraft flying the South Africa-Madagascar route.
According to daily Maverick, Airlink believes the ban is in retaliation to South Africa’s refusal to return 73.5 kg of gold bars, worth about R70-million, and $20,000 in cash that was confiscated from three Madagascan nationals who flew into Fireblade Aviation – a private terminal at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport, on a private charter flight from Madagascar on 31 December 2020, allegations that have never been confirmed officially. The travel ban will be upheld indefinitely over Pretoria’s refusal to return the confiscated gold bullion and its alleged smugglers.
The South African airline Airlink – the only South African company flying the route — was barred from operating in Madagascar since April, throwing the prospects for Airlink being able to resume flights to Madagascar – what was among its five most profitable routes – seem remote.
The airline, however, has repeatedly called on Madagascar to reopen its borders to airlines from South Africa.
The CEO and Managing Director, Rodger Foster, earlier expressed his disappointment that his country is excluded and called on the governments to resolve this issue: “We are appealing to the governments of both countries to expeditiously resolve any issues and differences that may have led to this situation so that relations can be normalized, and we can restore our usual air services connecting the two markets.”
“We are pawns in this chess game,” Foster told Daily Maverick. “We’re being held ransom. We’ve done nothing wrong.” He suggested that Madagascar was basically using Airlink to blackmail Pretoria into submitting to its demands about the gold bullion. “Meanwhile, the economic ties between the two countries have been badly compromised,” he added.
He noted that tourists, businesspeople were being forced to take long detours via Paris, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Reunion and Mauritius.