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We have seen new airlines take off and land, this newspaper opined in March last year. “But we hope the first KZN-based commercial operation, Velvet Sky, which started spreading its wings yesterday (on Monday), will stay aloft.”
It did not, taking off for Durban from OR Tambo International amid much promise on March 22 last year and coming to earth with a thud, and R100 million in debt, in a final liquidation in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on Thursday.
The first flights to Johannesburg cost R164, a clever matcher to the road toll payable then on the N3 between Durban and Johannesburg. It was going to be a low-cost airline, widely welcomed by consumers as another price-chaser in the Kulula-Mango-1Time market.
Velvet’s founders were hailed as visionaries and heroes, stirring excitement in an extremely tough business which had over decades seen several airline launches and failures. It had plans to serve southern Africa too, starting with Mozambique, and eyeing partnerships with national airlines to facilitate this.
It took a year to crash, with an oil firm going after it for three months worth of unpaid aviation fuel bills.
There was some surprise that Velvet did not, at the first red light on its dashboard, initially apply for a business rescue plan in terms of the recently amended Companies Act.
Though it fought liquidation to the last, the feeling was that a rescue plan might have saved Velvet – and the jobs it had created. Its argument at one stage was that its debt was not even as much as three days of expenditure. Later rescue plan bids were portrayed as ploys, and rejected.
Velvet was liquidated with desks, chairs and computers being listed as its only assets.
It was sad, again depriving consumers of the benefits of a fresh competitor. Sadder still were its KZN links, and those who were out of pocket because of its collapse.