Plan for cheap flights for the poor

2012-05-16 00:00

CAPE TOWN — A company that wants to sell unsold air tickets to previously-disadvantaged South Africans at a discount, wants R26 million from the government to develop its plan.

The company, Standby Travel, made a submission to the parliamentary portfolio committee for transport yesterday.

One of the shareholders in Standby Travel is the daughter of Ruth Bhengu, chairperson of that committee. She did not provide her daughter’s name.

Bhengu declared her interests yesterday, but did not recuse herself as chairperson, until the Democratic Alliance objected to her presence.

Democratic Alliance MP Ian Ollis said he found Bhengu’s conduct worrying.

“She declared her interests, but that is not enough. She is never far from controversy and was also involved in the Travelgate scandal. There are also rumours that Bhengu has an unhealthy relationship with the new airline that Santaco wants to launch,” Ollis said.

Standby Travel explained to the committee that it has developed a model to sell existing South African airlines’ empty seats to previously- disadvantaged South Africans at a discount.

Standby Travel CEO Alan Dickinson said airlines in South Africa sell between 70% and 90% of all available tickets.

“If the unsold 10% could be sold at a discount price, airlines could increase their incomes by up to an extra R500 million a year.”

Dickinson said Standby Travel also wants to develop an airline that flies to remote places like Umtata.

“The idea is to work together with Santaco if possible.”

Dickinson said they need the money from government in order to finance their business plan, as high financing costs often lead to airlines’ downfall.

“R5 million of the money will be needed for the information system to run the model,” Dickinson said.

The model that Standby Travel has developed would use all local airlines’ booking systems to identify empty seats on flights. Where seats are available 48 hours before a flight, those would be sold at discount prices.

Dickinson pointed out that only about five million South Africans had ever been in an aircraft.

Mango CEO Nico Bezuidenhout said yesterday that Mango would support any initiative to get more South Africans flying.

“It is important, however, to bear in mind the economic feasibility of any initiative.”

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