Sunday 30 July 2023

Darren Olivier

A freedom to operate, sustainably.

Last week I spent time in Botswana for a hearing. It also gave me an opportunity to pilot my first international flight. It’s a wonderful thing when two passions align in a way that is also sustainable, thanks to local innovation.

My daughter taught me about the fun of “Insta Reels” and this one I share with you now. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did capturing it!

Botswana is an impressive country. Its people are friendly, welcoming, and very capable. It is relatively small but vast (about 5% of South Africa’s population and 25% of its land mass) and an important business hub in the region. It is also home to a number of tourist attractions, particularly in the Okavango area.

Gaborone, the commercial capital, is open for business. Its skyline illuminates at night with brands of well-known eateries, banks, fashion houses and other commerce. Any exchange control is light, and the benefits of foreign direct investment are clear with an apparently, thriving middle class. Hotels are busy and their rates comparable, if not higher, than those in Johannesburg 300kms away, suggesting a healthy level of demand and investment.

The courts are stately and proudly bear “minimum standards of service” in their opening halls. Litigating in Botswana on intellectual property cases is somewhat familiar because their laws and procedures are largely based on the English system. That said, it is embryonic when it comes to the number of published decisions on this area of law and as a result, lean on advocacy and common law from South Africa. This is why we were present.

Getting there by road from South Africa is relatively painless except for border control which can lead to unpredictable, if not significant, delays. It is also not entirely stress free as road safety issues and hijackings (on the SA side) have been reported and naturally scare those who must travel between the countries. As a result, the country’s policing system has a no-tolerance approach which acts in stark contrast to their otherwise amiable demeanor. Necessary, it would seem, to protect what the country has nurtured.

Flying commercially is the preferred way of travel but it’s not inexpensive, and although it is a short hop, it can take as long as road travel once airport waiting times and clearance delays are considered. Although it is safer than road travel, it is significantly less sustainable for such a short trip. This is where a private plane becomes an option as it can be the most affordable, safe (compared to road travel), and sustainable option, especially if the plane is made by a company like Sling Aircraft, itself a wonderful example of South African innovation.

Sling Aircraft are based just south of Johannesburg and over the last two decades have made private plane ownership and flight relatively affordable for businesspeople with long commutes or requirements for local travel to tricky to reach places. A secondhand Sling 2 or 4 seat aircraft, for example, is no less affordable than an executive vehicle and has significantly less environmental impact. It runs on ordinary unleaded petrol and uses less fuel than an equivalent road trip. It also does not depreciate as fast a car and is simply a joy to travel in. It took just 1hr 20mins to travel the distance between the cities.

Of course, flying in small planes is not for everyone and although it is convenient, it is vulnerable to vagaries of the weather so careful planning is required. There is no perfect option when it comes to travel across our continent, but general aviation or small plane travel, marginalised in recent times, can make a comeback thanks to local innovators, like Sling Aircraft and others.

Flying oneself is an experience quite unlike any other and this aspect is not represented in a comparison of facts and figures between the different forms of transport. It is a privilege, a challenge, a responsibility, and a freedom, none of which can be measured. I am just grateful that my own journey to learn to fly, which started a few years ago, has culminated in this example of practical integration into my professional career, not only as a commuter option which I have been doing now for some time, but also to connect people, skills and highlight innovation, in a sustainable way.

Darren Olivier

Darren Olivier

Subscribe via email (you'll be added to our Google Group)