Comair’s joint chief executives Erik Venter and Gidon Novick are in discussions with British Airways (BA) over whether Comair’s franchise to carry BA passengers in southern Africa can be extended to a proposed route between Durban and London.

Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) and Durban civic and tourism authorities welcomed a plan announced a few weeks ago for Comair to start flights to Gatwick Airport from the new King Shaka International Airport next year.

At present, the only international airlines operating scheduled services from King Shaka are Emirates and Air Mauritius. SAA and other international airlines prefer to fly to Johannesburg, with domestic airlines acting as feeders to transport their passengers to and from Durban.

BA has regularly investigated the possibility of Durban flights but has so far decided against it, considering it a marginal route. However, Emirates reports passenger loads of more than 80 percent between Durban and its home airport in Dubai, from where there are connecting flights to the UK and many other international destinations.

The relationship between BA and Comair has been described by the British airline, which has a shareholding in the South African airline, as “unique”. Comair is estimated to gain about 20 percent of its passengers, particularly during holiday seasons, from BA and other members of the One World alliance of international airlines and is being encouraged to extend its route network to other parts of Africa.

BA, SAA and other international airlines which formerly extended their international flights to Durban by way of Johannesburg, withdrew from the city when new regulations were introduced making it compulsory for a change of crew for the short flight between the two cities.

Venter said from London yesterday that BA was now carrying out a feasibility study on the proposed extension of the franchise to nonstop flights between Durban and Gatwick.

“It is a bit of a marginal route and that is why we are not going in head first but have asked for an extension of the franchise,” he said. - Business Report