Cape town - This week has ended happily for Fastjet, the low-cost airline registered in London, which cancelled plans to start a service between Cape Town and Joburg in order to start one between Dar es Salaam and Joburg – a first step in its plan to become a panAfrican airline connecting all countries in our continent.
It hit an unexpected snag last month when, after its management believed it had completed all the formalities, our Department of Transport asked for additional documentation which it said would take a few days to process. This meant the launch had to be delayed and disappointed passengers offered a full refund.
But at last the new service was cleared for take-off and the first flight from Tanzania was due to arrive on Friday morning with the return in the afternoon. The service is starting with three flights a week, in competition with SAA but with considerably lower fares. It will become more frequent to meet the expected demand.
Fastjet’s earlier decision not to fly between here and Joburg encouraged Safair, which until now has provided only charter and maintenance services, to start a scheduled service, FlySafair, in its place with the first flight due three days ago. The fares offered on the internet were considerably below those of kulula.com and Mango on the same route. But this launch, too, has had to be delayed and it seems possible that there may be no happy ending for FlySafair.
An interdict preventing FlySafair from taking off while a decision by the Air Services Licensing Council to award it an operating licence is being reviewed has been obtained in the North Gauteng High Court by Comair and Skywise, a new airline about to be started by the original founders of low-cost airline 1Time, on the grounds that it is foreign-owned, breaking the law that a South African domestic airline must be 75 percent owned and controlled by South Africans.
This has been denied by Dave Andrew, chief executive of Safair, who said he and two other directors who were all born and brought up in South Africa controlled FlySafair with 75 percent of the voting rights.
But it seems this may be misleading. According to information given to the court, FlySafair is ultimately controlled by Irish owners whose shares have more voting rights than those held by the three South African directors, one of whom has dual South African and Irish nationality and is living in Ireland although he owns property in Wellington.
Meanwhile, Comair has offered to carry passengers booked with Safair at the same fare shown on their tickets and has already processed some. More than 2 000 passengers had booked and those taking advantage of the Comair offer will be carried on special flights in either Comair or kulula aircraft. But they cannot use their original tickets obtained from FlySafair and must book and pay in advance, giving the details including the fare shown on the FlySafair ticket and they cannot change the arrangements shown on the ticket.
According to Andrew, the major banks have arranged to refund the fares paid to Safair and I think it would be wise to take advantage of this.
Skywise director Glenn Orsmond says they are waiting only for its operating licence and will launch its service on the Cape Town to Joburg route soon.
If the directors of Safair’s Irish holding company want to start a scheduled passenger airline, and are prevented from operating one in this country, I am sure many South Africans would be delighted if they started one flying between this country and Ireland.
Safair’s existing aircraft and crews are accustomed to charters that take them outside this country on relief and other work, as well as carrying passengers on normal local flights to fill in for domestic or regional airlines in difficulties. They already have experienced air and cabin crews.
An Irish charter company operated seasonal flights to South Africa from Dublin successfully for several years, carrying holidaymakers from both countries. - Weekend Argus