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SAA flight cuts to hit Eastern Cape hard

Image: SAA

FlySafair will soon be adding a new aircraft to its fleet and there are strong indications the airline will seek to fill the huge gap left by SAA in the domestic air travel market.

While that announcement will be welcomed, it will do little to lift the spirits of thousands of Eastern Cape travellers who will now have to make alternate arrangements because of SAA’s decision to cut flights to East London, Port Elizabeth and Durban in neighbouring province KwaZulu-Natal.

The provincial business sector will be hit hardest by SAA’s flight cuts, particularly since business leaders have been calling for more flights — not less — as a catalyst for economic growth.

On Friday, FlySafair’s head of sales and distribution, Kirby Gordon, told the Dispatch that the airline was looking closely at the void left by SAA.

“FlySafair has a very strong presence into the Eastern Cape connecting both ELS and PLZ to Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, so we are quite pro investment into the area,” Gordon said.

“We do have a new aircraft arriving in SA in the next week or two.

“It will still need to be registered and should be added to the operating fleet in the next month or so, a schedule has already been published for that aircraft, but the changing market dynamics could open new opportunities.

“We’ll be watching closely,” he said.

Where SAA has tanked as a successful business, FlySafair has soared.

In December, Flysafair become the largest domestic carrier in SA.

It operates 16 aircraft and runs  more than 2,500 flights a year.

FlySafair CEO Elmar Conradie told Business Insider SA in January that the airline’s success lay in its ability to perform its own maintenance.

Louise Brugman, speaking on behalf of the business rescue partners, said SAA customers booked on cancelled domestic flights would be accommodated on services offered by Mango.

However, the announcement of SAA’s cancelled flights has rubbed the Eastern Cape business community the wrong way.

Eastern Cape Chamber of Business president Vuyisile Ntlabati  said the chamber had been calling for more flights to the province, but instead flights had been cancelled.

“There’s enough congestion as it is now and this is adding to that problem.

“What is more critical is the turn around-time.

“SAA had flexible flights and this is a huge inconvenience to the people.

“For us as the business sector, this will cost us a lot,” Ntlabati said.

“Now that they are scaling down, the turnaround time is affected.

'It means something one wanted to do today will have been done another day.

“This will hamper business; for instance, I am in Limpopo now. I had to sleep in Johannesburg because I couldn’t get an earlier flight from East London.

“This affects everyone. Time is critical in business and investors that we talk to, we talk about time.

“Now they will not want to come here.

“We need more flights. The more the merrier.”

Border-Kei Chamber of Business executive director Les Holbrook said it was disappointing that the national carrier had reached a point where it could no longer fly nationally.

“I think it had two flights to East London a day — that is 300 seats a day or more.

“It’s a pity because it takes us backwards.

“Our aspiration is to be a well connected city and it doesn’t help us if our primary carrier is at a point of business rescue,” he said.

Holbrook said SAA had gone from 14 flights in East London to zero.

He questioned how the carrier would recover by cutting flights to this extent.

“There are big opportunities for the other airlines and, unfortunately for East London, the impact is going to be felt.”

SA Express spokesperson Mpho Majatladi, asked whether the airline was considering adding more flights, said: “SA Express will keep you informed of any developments.”



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