Velvet to take low-cost service to African skies

By Time of article published Oct 3, 2011

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VELVET Sky planned to launch its low-cost service in the Southern African Development Community from early next year, the airline’s chairman, Stephen Nthite, said at the weekend.

“We’ve given ourselves (the next) four months. We want to start with Mozambique,” he said.

However, it depended on which country moved fastest in terms of concluding agreements with South Africa’s newest airline, Nthite added.

Velvet Sky is considering partnerships with national airlines to circumvent restrictive national bilateral agreements that say only state-owned carriers can land in Africa’s capitals.

The budget airline launched six months ago and faces the challenge of finding growth in a domestic and international industry that until recently was reporting declining revenues and passenger bookings.

Nthite said Velvet Sky, now an empowerment partner of rival 1Time, saw opportunity for expansion in other countries including Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“Those are mining destinations and already have a lot of traffic. We want to tap into that market, which is dollar-based.”

The expansion would not be simple because SAA dominated Africa’s airways. However, Nthite added that Velvet Sky did not intend going into head-on competition with SAA, which served a different clientele.

“We’re going in as a low-cost airline wherever we go,” the attorney by profession said.

The airline has been growing stealthily and on Friday launched a new route from Johannesburg to the Polokwane International Airport, with Airlink being its only rival.

Velvet Sky is South Africa’s first 100 percent black-owned airline firm and is controlled by Excalibur Aerospace, an aviation industry service provider owned by Excalibur Private Equity.

It will offer eight weekly flights between the cities from R300 a single ticket.

Velvet Sky chief operating officer Gary Webb said in the airline’s statement that Polokwane airport had waived an airport tax of R150 to assist the airline to reduce ticket prices.

Limpopo Tourism and Parks chief operating officer Seipati Tlaka said Velvet Sky’s arrival in the province was “a blessing” for its tourism.

Average revenue of R530 a day was local spend and R750 was the average national daily spend on tourism in Limpopo, Tlaka said.

Recently revised forecasts indicated the commercial aviation industry would return to growth, Nthite said, adding that the market was “so enormous” as many people had not flown before.

“The outlook for the aviation industry is quite positive… globally it is expected to recover by 73 percent and the bulk of that will be in low cost.”

Nthithe said the company was planning to expand its fleet of four aircraft to seven planes within the next 12 months. – Asha Speckman

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