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Cape Town - Swiss airline Edelweiss will start its seasonal flights to Cape Town this week, bringing more tourists to the city, where we are already seeing more than usual at this time of the year. All the signs are that this will be a good year for tourism. Last year the airline brought passengers from all over Europe including many from north Italy, for whom Edelweiss’s home airport of Zurich is conveniently close.
However it attracted surprisingly few local passengers bound for Europe. More South Africans are discovering the pleasures of winter sports, and Edelweiss executive Michael Trestl is hoping that many will opt to go to Switzerland this year rather than make for the snowy slopes in Germany and Austria.
Travel within Africa may very soon become easier and cheaper. SAA’s low-cost division, Mango, which so far flies only on domestic routes, is preparing to fly to some regional destinations soon, as Comair and its low-cost division, kulula.com and low-cost airline 1Time already do.
Nico Bezuidenhout, Mango’s chief executive, is confident that low-cost airlines will soon dominate the African market, provided more countries abandon the protectionism of their own airlines in favour of open skies.
But our low-cost airlines are facing formidable competition from London-listed Fastjet, which is aiming to become the first pan-African low-cost airline. Fastjet is the controlling shareholder of Fly 540, the airline started in Kenya five years ago by Lonrho, the London-based company with varied interests in parts of Africa. It has grown rapidly, carrying 75 000 passengers last year.
Fastjet intends to launch its expanded airline next month, deploying five Airbus A319s in Africa within six months and up to 15 within a year. It has recruited three senior executives from European low-cost airlines Easyjet and Ryan Air, and Kyle Haywood, formerly of British Airways Africa. So, even if it doesn’t yet start flying from South Africa, it will certainly make a difference to travel within the continent.
Bezuidenhout is confident that low-cost airlines will soon dominate air travel in Africa. But SAA’s full service airline is increasing its route network in the continent, and full service European airlines including British Airways, Air France and KLM and, of course, Middle Eastern airlines Emirates and Etihad, are bringing passengers from the rest of the world. So we shall soon be spoilt for choice.
Airbus’s newest aircraft, the A359 XWB (extra wide-bodied), is coming into production this week. The final assembly line in Toulouse was inaugurated last week. It is the first of a new “family”of mid-size wide-bodied airliners. There are three versions, all capable of flying up to 8 500 nautical miles. The smallest, the A350-800, will have 250 seats in a three-class configuration, the A350-900 a total of 314 seats, and the largest, A 350-1 000, will have 350 seats.
Like the huge Airbus A380 and Boeing’s newest aircraft, it offers passengers more space and uses less fuel, causing less pollution. It will be one of the new-generation aircraft SAA will be offered. - Weekend Argus