This joint statement is in response to the article titled "Flights between Joburg and Cape Town could become much longer due to new regulations" as published on the BusinessTech website (www.businesstech.co.za) on 25 March 2019.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) consider this article to be inaccurate, unfair, irresponsible, and a serious breach of the Press Council's Code of Ethics and Conduct, and have requested a correction and apology from BusinessTech.

The DST is mandated by the Astronomy Geographic Advantage Act, 2007 (Act No. 21 of 2007) to manage and protect the declared Karoo Central Astronomy Advantage Areas (KCAAAs).

The aviation industry, led by the Department of Transport (DoT), uses the air space between OR Tambo International Airport and Cape Town International Airport for scheduled and non-scheduled air traffic, some of which crosses over the KCAAAs.

The relationship between the DST and DoT, as representatives of the astronomy and aviation sectors, has always been one of open communication and information exchange, and the two departments are currently finalising a memorandum of agreement which will ensure that both sectors co-exist without harmfully interfering with each other.

On 15 December 2017, the Minister of Science and Technology published the final regulations on the protection of the declared KCAAAs. On 5 September 2018, the Minister published a notice determining the effective date of the KCAAA regulations to be 15 December 2018. The DoT and the aviation industry were thoroughly consulted during the development and promulgation of the KCAAA regulations. The following is the wording which was inserted in the final KCAAA regulations following a thorough consultation with the DoT:

"With respect to aviation:

(a)    "These regulations are not applicable to aeronautical mobile, aeronautical radio-navigation and radiolocation services operating in the frequency bands allocated to these services in the National Radio Frequency Plan published by ICASA in terms of section 34(12) of the Electronic Communications Act, 2005 (Act No. 36 of 2005).

(b)    "The measures necessary for the protection of the Karoo Core and Central Astronomy Advantage Areas, which shall be applicable to the aeronautical mobile, aeronautical radio-navigation and radiolocation services, and to the use of aircraft within the Karoo Core and Central Astronomy Advantage Areas, shall, after concurrence is reached between the Minister of Science and Technology and the Minister of Transport, be promulgated by the Minister of Transport and be administered and enforced by the Civil Aviation Authority established in terms of Chapter 6 of the Civil Aviation Act, 2009 (Act No. 13 of 2009)."

The DST and SARAO wish to state that the article published by BusinessTech contains information that is factually incorrect or inaccurate.

1. "department spokesperson": A large part of the article relies on information provided nearly 14 months ago by an unnamed Department of Science and Technology

    spokesperson. Since that time, numerous engagements have taken place with the aviation sector, and are foreseen to continue to take place, with a view to

    understanding the impact of aviation activities on radio astronomy activities and to jointly seek ways to mitigate such impacts as far as practically possible. This does not

    imply diversion of air routes, and it is irresponsible to report this to be the case.

2. "introduction of a mobile dead zone": The term "mobile dead zone" implies an area devoid of telecommunication services. The use of this term by the author of the 

     article suggests a lack of understanding by the author of the content and intent of the referenced regulations, as well as an over-reliance on inaccurate information.

     The regulations are designed to enable optimised management of the radio frequency spectrum, and to provide for an appropriate environment to conduct radio 

     astronomy observations, while still enabling access to essential telecommunication services. In fact, the DST has recently concluded a public participation process

     where it was proposed that certain frequency bands be exempt from the strictest of the protection requirements. Spectrum typically used by mobile

     telecommunication services, including that of cellphones, has been included in that list.

3.  "extension of the regulations, and by inference the 'dead zone', to flight traffic": The regulations are quite explicit on this matter. Section 2(2) of Schedule A of the

      referenced regulations indicate that they are NOT applicable to radio communication services used by aviation.

4.    "regulations require planes to travel at 18,500m": There is no truth whatsoever in this statement.

5.    Image: "map of the 'dead zone": The map of the so-called "dead zone" does not correlate with the declared astronomy geographic advantage area to which the

      regulations apply. It is also unclear how the figure of 20% reduction in cellphone coverage was arrived at.

6.   "said Chris Zeigerthal of the South African Civil Aviation Authority": Mr Chris Zweigenthal is Chief Executive of the Airlines Association of Southern Africa and does not

      represent the South African Civil Aviation Authority.

Issued by the Department of Science and Technology and the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory

Media enquiries:

DST:  Veronica Mohapeloa at 083 400 5750 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
SARAO:  Kim de Boer at 083 276 3282 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.