South Africa will hold talks with the United Arab Emirates about a disputed fourth daily Emirates airline flight to Johannesburg from Dubai that the government says was wrongly awarded.

The additional journey was granted to the world’s biggest international airline by an official who didn’t have the authority to do so, South Africa’s Department of Transport said in a statement today. When an attempt was made to reverse the decision, Emirates lodged a legal interdict against the department to keep flying.

“Technically, the fourth flight is currently operating on the basis of the court interdict,” the department said. It intends to “withdraw the authorization by the official who has since been suspended due to this unfortunate situation.”

The Johannesburg-U.A.E. route is a business and tourist link also operated by South African Airways, the unprofitable state-owned airline. SAA is struggling on long-haul routes as an aging fleet ramps up operating costs, yet can’t afford new planes. Emirates operates 49 weekly flights to and from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban and began the fourth daily link to the country’s most populous city last month.

Minister of Transport Dipuo Peters delegated the deputy director-general for aviation to travel to the Middle East country for the talks.

“These discussions are taking place within the spirit of progressive bilateral cooperation between South Africa and the U.A.E.,” Peters said in the statement. “It’s critical to urgently deal with any issue that may seek to raise questions around our bilateral relations with the U.A.E.”

The department has no intention to halt Emirates services to South Africa, it said. The Johannesburg-based Sunday Times newspaper said yesterday that the government may try to stop all Emirates flights if an agreement can’t be reached.

A spokesman for Emirates said yesterday the airline won’t comment on talks between governments.

With assistance from Rene Vollgraaff in Johannesburg and Deena Kamel Yousef in Dubai.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kamlesh Bhuckory in Johannesburg at To contact the editors responsible for this story: Simon Thiel at John Bowker, Gordon Bell.

Photo Credit: An Emirates flight gets ready for take off from Johannesburg, South Africa. Bob Adams / Flickr