Competition to connect SA to its regional neighbours heats up

2019-10-04 04:45 - Selene Brophy
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Competition to operate flight routes to South Africa's neighbours Botswana, Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique has SA Express (SAX) being awarded approval, despite objection by SA Airlink who had the monopoly connecting SA to these regional neighbours. In the mix is competition from a new player in the Namibian airspace too. 

Following financial woes that saw it being grounded by Airports Company South Africa earlier in August, SAX has been given an Afri-travel lifeline of sorts by the International Air Services Council (IASC).

The airline has confirmed it has approval to offer services to Zimbabwe, Angola and Botswana and would like to start operations on these routes as soon as possible. It will be adding seven new return flights between Cape Town International Airport and Gaborone in Botswana, seven return flights between OR Tambo International Airport and Bulawayo in Zimbabwe, and three return flights to Luanda in Angola.

SA Express spokesperson, Mpho Majatladi says the granting of these routes was crucial as it would allow the airline to continue to make steady progress in its quests to achieve long-term commercial sustainability.

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Business Day reported that SA Express – which received an R1.2 billion state bailout in 2018 – was denied a R200m guarantee in August by finance minister Tito Mboweni. Mboweni has previously indicated he would like to see SA Express incorporated into South African Airways (SAA). 

“We are very pleased with the Council’s decision as it allows us to accelerate the implementation of our strategy to offer increased, much-needed regional services to achieve commercial sustainability. To this end, we plan to launch these new routes as soon as possible as they are high yield markets."

But while these routes are seen as high-earning regional destinations servicing largely business travellers, it has been deemed a monopoly.

SA Airlink had lodged it application on the Zimbabwe and Botswana routes, with 7 return flights a week also lodged for four Mozambique routes to Pembe, Beira, Tete and Vilankulo. Traveller24 has contacted the airline to confirm which routes had been granted - and is awaiting a response.

With the added competition on the routes, it will be interesting to see how the airlines plan to woe travellers whether on price, ancillary services or value-adds - but either way it is clear that load on both ends will be crucial to make it profitable. 

New Namibian carrier adds connectivity to Cape Town 

Upping the ante when it comes to connectivity to Namibia is the our north-westerly neighbour's newest carrier, FlyWestair. The new player in this airspace launched in June 2019, and has confirmed it will start operating between Eros Airport in Windhoek to Cape Town, South Africa.

"Starting Monday, 7 October, we will offer two flights a day every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and one flight on Sundays, from Eros Airport in Windhoek to Cape Town International, with a quick stop-over in Oranjemund," the airline states on its website. 

Namibian Transport Commission has granting accreditation to Westair Aviation an official scheduled passenger airline, with flights to various destinations within the country and the sub region, under the brand name FlyWestair. 

Yet Airlink was previously moved to Hosea because international flights were barred from operating at Eros, with the airline's spokesperson Karin Murray previously confirming to Traveller24, "Airlink has vast experience of operating at Eros airport using the Embraer ERJ135LR aircraft and we would be interested to operate direct services between Cape Town and Eros and between Johannesburg and Eros."   

In terms of the Bilateral Air Services Agreement between Namibia and South Africa, Eros is not available as a port of entry for scheduled flights using aircraft greater than 5 700kg maximum take-off weight.

As such, FlyWestair would not be able to offer scheduled air services between Windhoek Eros Airport and Cape Town using a regional airliner as announced. 

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But with the stopover at Oranjemund, this domestic flight between Eros and Oranjemund will require passengers to check through customs and emigration/immigration as the port of entry or exit, depending on which leg of the journey you are on.

If this is the intent says Murray, "the announcement and advertisement should clearly indicate that the flight is between Oranjemund and Cape Town. The South African Aeronautical Authority is aware of the situation and is investigating the announced services in the context of compliance with the Bilateral Air Services Agreement and that all requisite authorizations are in place".

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