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Comair liquidation opens up South African skies

It is natural that other airlines take over the vacuum that opened up in the wake of airlines failing in south Africa, says aviation analyst Phuthego Mojapili. Picture, Courtney Africa, ANA.

It is natural that other airlines take over the vacuum that opened up in the wake of airlines failing in south Africa, says aviation analyst Phuthego Mojapili. Picture, Courtney Africa, ANA.

Published Jun 17, 2022


Beleaguered Comair's formal application for liquidation this week has opened South African skies up for the taking as an increasing number of routes open up on a continental and trans-Atlantic level.

Domestic air travellers should be prepared to pay three to four times more for their flight tickets. This is as airline capacity has reportedly dropped 40 percent since Comair’s business rescue practitioners announced plans to liquidate the airline.

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Air Côte d’Ivoire announced this week that the Johannesburg-Abidjan, via Kinshasa, route would launch on June 29 and would be the fastest route between South Africa and Côte d’Ivoire offered by any airline in Africa.

The airline will be introducing four flights per week between Johannesburg and Abidjan.

Air Côte d’Ivoire CEO Laurent Loukou believes the new route between Abidjan and Johannesburg will be important to opening up opportunities for investment and improving bilateral trade.

“Of course, the timing of the new route has been strategic as we lead up to IATF2023. Africa is gearing up to become a strong economic bloc and Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa have a massive role to play in that growth. Intra-Africa trade is key to unlocking industrial opportunities for many African countries, including between Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa,” Loukou said.

The National Union of Metal Workers (Numsa) said it could only wait out the liquidation process after it learnt that Comair had filed for liquidation barely a week after the stakeholders had an engagement to look into ways of saving the struggling airline.

“It is a liquidation, members are creditors so obviously we will be participating in the process and we will follow through all the way. We have no reason to sit this out,” Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi-Majola said this week.

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FlySafair chief marketing officer, Kirby Gordon, said that since the news of Comair’s permanent grounding went public, FlySafair had seen an uptick in flight prices, adding that this was expected to be more pronounced during the approaching holiday season.

“We are price takers, so pricing is always as a result of supply and demand forces in the market and when one [is] approached with a situation like we are at the moment –where supply is being constrained relative to the demand that is out there – we are going to see increases in prices. That is only natural,” Gordon said.

South African air skies are there for the taking under the Yamoussoukro Agreement and there are already off-take flights, including the low-cost Swiss Air Zurich to Cape Town route, Middle East lines out of Cape Town, the Delta Airways triangle encompassing Cape Town and New York.

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Aviation analyst Phuthego Mojapili said the Yamoussoukro Agreement opened up African skies to airlines around the continent, which are opening up more now that more South African airlines were going defunct.

“Our aviation industry is stagnant, there is no longer any growth so it is natural that other airlines take over the vacuum that has opened up. More and more airlines will fill the vacuum,“ Mojapili said.

The  1999 Yamoussoukro Decision, named for the Ivorian city in which it was agreed, commits its 44 signatory countries to deregulate air services, and promote regional air markets open to transnational competition.

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It followed up on the Yamoussoukro Declaration of 1988, in which many of the same countries agreed to principles of air services liberalisation. In 2000, the Decision was endorsed by head of states and governments at the Organisation of African Unity, and became fully binding in 2002.

Mojapili said some African carriers were not allowed into the EU or US markets, because of stringent safety standards, which now made South Africa an attractive destination.

“South Africa enjoyed the dominant status for many years. We were the leading airline destination, but we no longer enjoy that now. The leading airline countries are now Ethiopia, Kenya and Egypt and they are all lining up to take over the South African skies,” Mojapili said.

He said the invading airlines were not necessarily unsafe since the South African Civil Aviation Authority had oversight over safety standards, but that the opportunity left off by the failure of local airlines provided the opportunity for expansion of foreign airlines.