Comair to Go Long-Haul to London

South African carrier Comair has confirmed that it has begun the initial planning stages to introduce flights between Durban’s King Shaka International Airport and London Gatwick, although no further details about its operational plans have yet been announced.  The airline’s Chief Executive Officer, Gidon Novick has said “there is now a huge amount of work ahead of us to get all the regulatory approvals to start flights to London” after an agreement was reached with the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government, under the auspices of its key economic development project, the Dube Trade Port.

It is unlikely that the airline will be able to secure the necessary equipment, develop the right infrastructure and secure the regulatory licences to complete this during the current calendar year, although the start of the 2012 summer timetable is a realistic target date. 

MARKET ANALYSIS: O&D AIRPORT IN SOUTH AFRICA OF PASSENGERS TO AND FROM UK (bi-directional O&D traffic)

Rank

Airport

Estimated O&D Pax

%Share

1

Johannesburg Oliver Reginald Tambo International

739,670

56.2

2

Cape Town International

444,186

33.7

3

Durban King Shaka International

86,337

6.6

4

Port Elizabeth

24,988

1.9

5

East London

6,945

0.5

(others)

14,189

1.1

TOTAL

1,316,315

-


More than 1.3 million O&D passengers travelled between South Africa and the UK last year, a figure that has increased constantly since 2005, although demand from Durban is much lower than Cape Town and Johannesburg (see table above) as there are currently no direct flights into the UK.  As the table below illustrates, all of the capacity between the UK and South Africa is concentrated on the two core markets of Johannesburg and Cape Town.

MARKET ANALYSIS: SOUTH AFRICA – UK (weekly non-stop flights)

Airline

Origin

Destination

Flights

Seats

British Airways

Cape Town

London Heathrow

7

2,268

Johannesburg

London Heathrow

14

4,536

South African Airways

Cape Town

London Heathrow

6

1,511

Johannesburg

London Heathrow

9

2,615

Virgin Atlantic Airways

Johannesburg

London Heathrow

7

2,156

TOTAL

43

13,086


British Airways currently dominates the demand between the two markets with a 33.5 per cent share of the O&D passenger traffic, followed by South African Airways with 22.0 per cent and Virgin Atlantic Airways with 16.3 per cent.  The remaining 28.2 per cent is split among airlines operating non-direct flights, a market in which Emirates Airlines hold the largest share (10.4 per cent), followed by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, Air France and Qatar Airways.

Comair currently operates under two brands.  Many domestic and international flights are operated under a British Airways franchise arrangement and are flown using ‘BA’ codes, while others are under the company’s low-cost division kulula.  The South African carrier is understood to have already held informal talks with British Airways to allow this route to be flown under the franchise arrangement, although it has not ruled out flying it under its own brand. 

“There are other options, like using our kulula.com low-cost brand, but British Airways would be our first choice on that route,” Gidon Novick reportedly told local media after announcing the proposed route expansion.  A deal with the UK carrier could also overcome any fleet planning issues with the potential to lease widebodied equipment such as a Boeing 767. 

Comair is currently the largest operator at King Shaka International with 23 daily flights into Durban.  The facility opened in May 2010 ahead of the FIFA World Cup football tournament last summer.  Alongside Comair and Kulula; Mango, OneTime, South African Airways and Velvet Sky Airlines also serve the airport, as well as Air Mauritius which has a twice weekly link to Mauritius and Emirates Airline which has a daily service to Dubai International.

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