Our newest low-cost airline, Velvet Sky, has added to our choice of travel from Cape Town Airport and seems to be doing extremely well in spite of stiff competition from 1Time and kulula com. Its initial teething troubles were solved quickly and Gary Webb, its chief operating officer, tells me that its passenger loads with the present two aircraft average 70 percent.
Velvet Sky is based in Durban but its aircraft fly between Cape Town and Johannesburg three times a day and between Johannesburg and Durban twice daily. It began operations with a Boeing 737 in an all-economy configuration with 148 seats and has added a DC9. Two more Boeing 737s have been ordered. Although it describes itself as a “no frills, simple value for money” service it offers free tea, coffee, fruit juice and water, but serves no alcohol. Meals at a cost of R30 can be ordered when the booking is made, but Webb says most passengers prefer to bring their own food.
Since its start-up a controlling share in the airline has been taken by aviation services provider Excalibur Aerospace, which is owned by a private equity company, Excalibur, a broadbased black economic empowerment company.
Reassuringly, it is run by people with years of experience in the aviation industry. Devan Pillay, the chief executive, points out that, according to the latest International Air Transport Association (IATA) survey domestic airlines in most countries are growing after the recession. Velvet Sky is already planning to expand into other South African Development Community (SADC) countries when it has a larger fleet. Hopefully, it will by then become easier for South African airlines to obtain air traffic rights to fly into neighbouring countries.
Siza Mzimela, chief executive of SAA, mentioned the difficulty South African airlines have in obtaining air traffic rights to fly into some African countries that protect their national airlines from competition when she and Rodger Foster, chief executive of domestic and regional airline Airlink attended a meeting with the parliamentary committee on tourism this week. This is increasingly worrying SAA and some other airlines that are losing business to them.
Despite this, and a growth in the number of airlines flying into this country in the past two years, a survey commissioned by IATA from Oxford Economics shows that SAA brings about 50 percent of incoming passengers to South Africa, making a contribution of about R11.7 billion to our economy and supporting 58 000 jobs.
Airlink, the privately owned airline which acts as a feeder for SAA, carrying its passengers to local and regional destinations our national carrier does not serve, already flies to several SADC countries and others including Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Foster said that although it was mainly a business airline, it also carried business tourists and parents living in areas outside South Africa visiting children at school in this country. Foster said Airlink has a fleet of 29 aircraft and carries 85 000 passengers a month on 3 000 flights. It encourages business tourists to take the opportunity to visit places of interest while they are here. – Weekend Argus