01\11\06 Mango airline launched today at the OR Tambo airport Picture: Mike Dibetsoe

Cape Town - Low-cost airline Mango will start weekly flights between Joburg and Zanzibar next month, filling the gap left by 1Time when it stopped flying in December.

This is Mango’s first route outside South Africa. But the flights will be a charter operation for tour operator StayAfrica and are not yet part of Mango’s own route network. Bookings for the flights and accommodation will have to be made through StayAfrica until the year-long charter contract ends. After that, however, Mango intends to fly the route on its own behalf, offering accommodation through SAA Holidays.

In fact, Mango started flying to Zanzibar for StayAfrica for a short time when the sudden suspension of 1Time’s flights left many holidaymakers who had booked to stay on the island over the Christmas and New Year period stranded. StayAfrica was inundated with inquiries and chartered Mango for the holiday period only.

But StayAfrica’s managing director, Marian Sandu, explained the strength of demand made him realise the popularity of Zanzibar, which is less expensive than Mauritius – at least so far – and he believes it will continue to attract South Africans.

I can believe it. I made a brief visit to Zanzibar before it had developed any tourism industry and its potential was obvious. Although it is now part of Tanzania politically, it was occupied and run by Arabs and was a slave-trading centre. Its old part, Stone Town, has attractive Arab architecture.

Its main industry has for generations been producing spices, still grown on plantations you can visit, and which you can buy. It has warm sea, white beaches and the local fishing industry uses Arab dhows. Its only disadvantage, compared with Mauritius, is that you have to take precautions against malaria and must have a yellow fever certificate to produce on your return to South Africa.

Mango also started a service to Port Elizabeth before Christmas and, I’m told, is flying with full aircraft. Nico Bezuidenhout, its chief executive, was head of SAA’s information technology until he was offered the job of starting and running Mango. He is currently acting chief executive of SAA. The Minister of Public Enterprises, Malusi Gigaba, has said that a permanent chief executive would be chosen by next month, from a list of 14 short-listed candidates. I don’t know whether Bezuidenhout is on it – he did not apply for the job last time it became vacant – but if he is, his record so far should make him a strong candidate even if he is competing with experienced executives from successful overseas airlines. Knowledge of the local market and of Africa count for a great deal, as the experience of the former Swissair, once one of the leading European airlines and now reduced in size and a subsidiary of German airline Lufthansa, shows. It ran into serious trouble when a Swiss banker with no experience of the aviation industry, who was appointed chief executive, and an American managing director who did not understand the European market, made disastrous decisions.

On the other hand, Kenya Airways, which flies into Joburg from its home airport in Nairobi, and has Dutch airline KLM as its strategic partner, is an undoubted success. Its senior executives are all African although it has benefited from input from KLM and from its membership of the Sky Team alliance led by the merged KLM and Air France.

While SAA has withdrawn from most of its former European market, which is still our main source of tourism from overseas, and started flights to Bejing only this year, the Kenyan national airline has been flying there for a number of years. Like SAA, it is now expanding its African services, mainly by increased frequencies on busier routes. - Weekend Argus