While the grounding of airline company Comair, and subsequent closure has created a gap in domestic travel in South Africa, Airlink chief executive Rodger Foster argues that there was likely already too much capacity for domestic travel in the current economic environment.
Speaking to radio station 702, Foster said the topic of South Africa’s domestic airline capacity discussion often comes up over busy periods such as the Easter weekend or busy holiday periods, where there is a notable spike in demand. He said that on these specific days and periods there will never be enough capacity to meet demand.
“But for every other day of the year, there is too much capacity. The evidence of that can be seen in the state of the industry generally. Not just with Comair but pre-Covid we had South African Airways going into business rescue. You had the same with Mango and SA Express and of course, Comair going into business rescue and very sadly succumbing.
“For me, that is an indicator of the unsustainability of the industry generally. While the 40% of flights (lost by Comair) possibly need to come back, not all of it (does). The industry needs to be sustainable, it needs to be affordable and it needs to be reliable and safe – and it obviously couldn’t (be) on the basis that we had all these airline failures.”
Comair, the South African partner of British Airways and owner of low-cost carrier Kulula, applied for liquidation earlier this month after running out of funds. The group accounted for 40% of domestic air trips in South Africa and a number of international routes.
The rival airline, FlySafair, said earlier in June, that it plans to add at least 10 new routes across sub-Saharan Africa to take advantage of a resulting gap in the market.
“The market has lost about 9,000 seats a week,” Kirby Gordon, chief marketing officer at FlySafair, said in the statement. Adding the new planes “will help to plug this gap.”
South Africa’s aviation industry has suffered a number of knocks in recent years, Bloomberg reported, including the lengthy bankruptcy proceedings and downsizing of South African Airways and loss of state-owned carrier Mango alongside coronavirus travel bans.
Even so, the domestic market had recovered to about 60% to 70% of 2019 supply levels before Comair’s collapse, according to FlySafair.
Foster’s comments come after Airlink signed a codeshare agreement with Middle-Eastern airline Qatar Airways to expand its operations in South Africa.
The codeshare agreement will offer travellers more choice and improved connectivity between 45 destinations in 12 countries across southern Africa, Airlink said. The group added that travellers will be able to purchase connecting flights on both airlines using one reservation.
Qatar Airways currently offers direct flights from Doha to Johannesburg 21 times weekly, Cape Town 10 times weekly, and Durban four times weekly.
The international airline has extended its presence in the African market by adding eight new destinations since the start of the pandemic, said Airlink.
The agreement will increase Qatar Airways’ footprint in southern Africa, with improved access to the following destinations:
- Ggeberha (Port Elizabeth);
- Skukuza; and,
Outside of South Africa’s borders, connectivity would be further extended into Africa, namely:
- Zimbabwe; and,
Airlink added that the new partnership would enable customers to book attractive offers from southern Africa to popular destinations in the US such as New York and Dallas, cities in Europe such as London, Copenhagen and Barcelona, and points across Asia like Manila, Jakarta and Cebu.