Airlink continues with abandoned SAA routes, readies for court action

Privately-run South African airline Airlink will operate services linking Johannesburg with Port Elizabeth, Entebbe, Ndola and Luanda after February 29, 2020, even though its franchise partner, South African Airways, will stop serving those destinations from that date.

SAA's business rescue practitioners (BRPs) announced earlier on Thursday that the embattled airline would be cancelling all of its domestic routes from the end of February, apart from Johannesburg to Cape Town.

Airlink, which operates on 55 routes to 39 destinations in nine African countries, has filed an application with the Johannesburg High Court to recover revenues from ticket sales it alleges is owed to it by SAA, its CEO Roger Foster told Fin24. 

"The airline business is characterised by the sale of high volumes of perishables at low margins. At the same time, there are significant capital and operational costs associated with running an airline, which necessitate continual downward pressure on costs and having enough cash available to cover them," Foster said on Thursday.

Airlink is able to cover these costs in the near-term, but cannot afford to write off several months of turnover without it having a major impact. The court application is, therefore, one of the steps it is taking to mitigate any potential impact.

"We will elaborate on our claim in the Johannesburg High Court on February 11, 2020, but not before," said Foster.

Similarly, he said Airlink would not expand on reports that it is suing Air Namibia as well, until the matter comes before the court.

SAA's business rescue practitioners have argued the monies are pre-commencement debt. 

Currently Airlink operates two flights a day to Ndola, Zambia, which will allow travellers booked on SAA's own flights to be re-accommodated on Airlink after February 29, 2020. Furthermore, Airlink has been operating flights to Entebbe, Uganda, on SAA's behalf and will continue these services without disruption after February 29, 2020.

Airlink recently secured traffic rights to operate daily direct flights to Luanda, Angola. It will commence this service after February 29.

Foster says he wants to reassure travellers that as far as Airlink is concerned, it is business as usual.

"Our schedule and operations are unaffected by SAA's latest network cuts," he said. "Our flights will operate under the 'SA8' flight code until June 10, 2020, after which they will be operated under Airlink's unique '4Z' code."

Tickets already issued for travel on SAA flight numbers on the relevant routes, after February 29, 2020, will remain valid, subject to re-accommodation by Airlink, Foster said.

Update: Due to what it perceives as some confusion among the public, Airlink clarified in a statement issued on Friday that it is a privately-run South African airline, completely indepdenent and not to be confused with the state-owned feeder airline SA Express, which the Johannesburg High Court earlier this week ruled should be placed in business rescue.

"Airlink competes against SA Express on routes linking Johannesburg with Walvis Bay, Kimberley, Gaborone, Bloemfontein, Hoedspruit, Bulawayo and Mthatha," explained Airlink CEO Rodger Foster.

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