Guest blog post from Rob Baker of South Africa Travel Online
It’s the nature of the airline industry that no sooner have you written an article, that it becomes dated! I wrote an article on Cheap Flights to Cape Town on the 23rd July and already there is another airline wanting to fly to the Mother City (makes us Capetonians feel really popular!). Safair have just announced that they want to start operating FlySafair flights from Johannesburg (OR Tambo International Airport rather than Lanseria Airport) from the end of the year, and to start taking bookings as early as the end of September (just a month away, these guys don’t mess around!). It’s not surprising that they’ve chosen the Johannesburg to Cape Town route, as this is the 10th busiest flight route in the world (proof that contrary to South African folklore, Gautengers and Capetonians DO actually love each other!).
FlySafair want to start flight operations in South Africa in the wake of Velvet Sky and 1time Airline having gone into liquidation, as this removed a lot of the capacity from the market. They’re not at all alone – other airlines wanting to start operations in South Africa include Pak Africa Aviation which have put in an offer to purchase 1time Holdings for R15m (they’re interested in purchasing the 1time brand and to fly regional flights in Africa, from their base in Harare – they’ll probably let 1time airline itself go into liquidation). Then the founders of 1time airline have decided they want to get back into the game and start an airline called Skywise Airline, and they’re joined by some big names in the South African travel industry like Johan Bortslap (was Managing Director of Sunair) and Wayne Duvenhage (who was Avis Southern Africa’s Chief Executive) – initially Skywise wanted to start operations this month, but they’ve run into delays and it’s not clear when their starting date will be. Fastjet, a London listed airline which is based in Tanzania, has been desperate to get into the South African domestic market, first making a bid for 1time airline, then trying to start up without 1time and using Federal Air’s license to operate the flights, but they seemed to run into opposition based on their 75% South African shareholders (it’s a requirement to operate flights in South Africa, that you must have at least 75% South African shareholders), with questions being raised about their aviation experience.
Other airlines flying from Johannesburg to Cape Town are Kulula, Mango Airlines, South African Airways and British Airways.
FlySafair is owned by Safair, which in turn is 25% owned by ASL Aviation Group, an Irish company, and 75% owned by South African businessmen (it’s not clear who), thus meeting the requirement for 75% local ownership. The airline aims to run a low cost service, with an economy-only configuration on 2 Boeing 737-400 planes, which it’ll fly up to 60 times per week between OR Tambo and Cape Town. Safair has been in the industry since 1970, when Safmarine purchased Tropair and consolidated all its airline interests into Safair, to use primarily to ferry cargo around. Safair operate a charter and leasing service, and often stand in for flights when one of the established carriers has a plane breaking down and needs somebody to fill in. Given their long history of operating non-scheduled flights, it would seem that FlySafair has a much better chance of success in the very tough South African market, than companies like Velvet Sky which was started by a company with very limited aviation experience.