Cape Town - Thousands of bookings have been made to fly between Cape Town and Joburg with a new airline, FlySafair, which was due to start operating on Thursday. The launch has been delayed – or possibly stopped permanently – by an interdict obtained by Comair and another new airline, Skywise, which is also expected to be launched soon, who claim that FlySafair is foreign-owned by the Irish ASL Aviation Group and therefore barred from operating a South African domestic airline.
But passengers who have booked and paid for FlySafair tickets – sold on the internet at lower prices – are in no danger of losing their money.
The North Gauteng High Court, which granted the interdict while it reviews the decision by the Air Services Licensing Council to grant FlySafair a licence to operate a scheduled service, accepted an offer by Comair to carry FlySafair passengers at the fare shown on their tickets while the interdict is in force.
Erik Venter, the chief executive of Comair, said this week that his airline was booking charter flights to carry FlySafair passengers taking advantage of the offer. Dave Andrew, chief executive of Safair, who said he was confident the new airline would open for business, said it had made arrangements with banks to refund passengers who wanted to cancel their tickets.
Air fares on the route soared when low-cost airline 1Time went out of business late last year, leaving the route to Comair and SA Airways and their low-cost divisions kulula.com and Mango.
Skywise, started by the original founders of 1Time, Glenn Ors-mond and Rodney James, and Johan Borstlap, chief executive of the original Sun Air, has leased two new-generation Boeing aircraft in readiness for the Cape Town-to-Joburg route. The airline also plans to charge lower fares, and is waiting for its manual to be given final approval.
1Time had 15 percent of the domestic airline market and a loyal customer base. The original Sun Air was killed off by a price war started by SAA when American Coleman Andrews was its chief executive,
Safair, which was sold by its South African owners to an Irish aircraft leasing company, has been in business in this country for 50 years, providing maintenance services and charter flights. Andrew claims that three South African directors have 75 percent of the voting rights of the South African operations including FlySafair and therefore meet the requirements for a licence to operate a scheduled airline. But Venter claims the three are “fronting” for the Irish owners and receive no dividends.
A documentary to be released next year and reports on Facebook will show what it was like for the early aviators to make a long-haul flight from Cape Town to Goodwood Airport in England, exposed to the weather in an open cockpit. The pilot will be Tracey Curtis-Taylor, 51, in a specially reconstructed Boeing Stearman biplane, who will follow the route flown by pioneering pilot Mary Heath in 1928.
Heath was the first person to fly solo from South Africa to the UK, the first woman to gain a commercial pilot’s licence and become an airline pilot and the first woman to parachute from a plane.
Unlike Heath, Curtis-Taylor will be constantly in touch with the outside world during her flight, although her plane will have a top speed of 152km/h, a range of only 724km and an operating ceiling of 3 048m.
The cockpit and wings of her plane will be fitted with cameras and she will be followed by a “chase plane” carrying a film crew. The project Facebook page has been in operation since September and is supported by Twitter alerts and a YouTube channel. - Weekend Argus