While local consumers have no doubt been looking forward to a possible easing of increasingly exorbitant ‘budget’ airfares, the future is looking rather dismal.
If you're unfortunate enough to be booking last minute Easter Weekend tickets, the cheapest return ticket between Joburg and Cape Town on Mango will cost you around R2 136 and around R4 478 on kulula (as precious few seats are left).
While these subsidiary airlines of Comair and South African Airways have managed to stay on top of budget air travel in South Africa, it seems as though they may face some competition from an unlikely source pretty soon: charter flights.
Charters - your only other choice
Without making too much of a hoo-haa of the event, Johannesburg-based, Fly Cemair, kicked off a new route between OR Tambo and Plettenberg Bay on 28 March 2014, simultaneously launching a Cape Town leg.
Tickets for the Johannesburg-Plett route are expected to start from R1 749 one way, while the Cape Town route tickets are expected to start from R1 449.
Southafrica.to also reports that Global Airways will start its first charter flights from OR Tambo International Airport to Cape Town International over the Easter weekend.
The charter is being booked by travel agents, but prices are, unsurprisingly, rather high with one-way tickets in the region of R2 500.
If everything continues to run smoothly for these charter companies, they would have managed to succeed in something that a number of budget airline hopefuls have failed at dismally over the past year and a bit: launching local routes that compete with kulula and Mango.
Let’s take a quick look at the state of budget airlines in South Africa right now.
Tourism Update reported on Monday that Skywise, the brainchild of 1time’s founders, has been dealt a heavy blow after the Department of Transport (DoT) cancelled their Air Service License.
The DoT said that the license was only valid for a year and that the, since the airline has made no progress in launching since March last year, it has now expired.
According to Southafrica.to, Skywise did apply for an extension of the 1 year validity, but this was turned down by the Air Service Licensing Council (ASLC).
The airline is still in the process of applying for an Air Operator Certificate from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
Skywise’s journey started in October 2012 when Rodney James, the previous Chief Executive Officer of 1time, applied for a license to start a low cost carrier. Getting Glenn Orsmond (former CEO of 1time), Michael Kaminski (former head of IT at 1time), Johan Bortslap (Sun Air's Managing Director) and Wayne Duvenhage (previous head of Avis South Africa) on board, they had originally hoped to launch the airline by 1 March 2013.
Licensing issues, however, pushed the date forward somewhat and by mid-2103, James expressed his hope that they would receive their Air Operator Certificate by the end of August 2013 and that flights would start less than a month later.
At this time he added that they were planning on using proper low-cost business models to lower ticket costs by about 25%.
According to Southafrica.to FlySafair should be able to apply for a new licence until the court process regarding their old licence application has run to an end. So, it's possible that FlySafair will be embroiled in process legalities for a while.
Owned by Safair Operations (Pty) Limited, Flysafair had already started selling tickets in September last year when flight operations were stopped in their tracks when Comair and Skywise joined forces to launch a high court application against FlySafair's licence.
The two operators claimed that Flysafair did not fulfill the 75% local ownership requirement, contending that Hugh Flynn, one of the three persons said by Safair to be its shareholders, did not ordinarily reside in South Africa as claimed on his behalf before the Air Service Licensing Council.
The High Court in Pretoria ruled in favour of Comair and Skywise’s appeal, grounding Flysafair before it even had a chance to take off.
Since tickets had already been sold for flights, the court ordered Comair to help passengers left stranded by the court ruling with alternative travel arrangements aboard kulula and British Airways flights.
After 1time was liquidated in November 2012, a number of operators showed interest in picking up where it left off.
Operating from Tanzania, with its head offices located in the UK, and their eye on the rest of Africa, fastjet was probably the most aggressive in its approach to acquiring 1time’s routes.
In early December 2012, they announced that they were in negotiations with the provisional liquidator of 1time and that they hoped to be up and running in South Africa before Christmas.
By mid-December they had entered into an option agreementto buy the entire issued share capital of 1time Airline from its parent company, 1time Holdings, for ZAR1.
"Due to protracted negotiations we will not have 1time flying before the Christmas but very much hope that 1time will be flying again early in the New Year," Ed Winter, chief executive of fastjet, was quoted saying.
In early January 2013, South Africa’s largest airlines formally objected to the threat posed by fastjet’s attempts to enter the local market.
While the airline has made a foray into South Africa, with its three times weekly flights from Dar es Salaam to Johannesburg, they have not made further progress with acquiring access to local flight market.
What are your thoughts - have airfares been spiralling out of control or is bad planning (last minute bookings etc) on the consumer's part mostly to blame for high ticket prices?
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