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New Airline Seeks Licence To Operate In Local Market

posted Jan 5, 2011, 4:40 AM by Elaine Bell

Durban backers coy about plans but website is advertising positions for pilots and other personnel required


Published: 2011/01/05 06:35:12 AM

A NEW airline flying between Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg may grace SA’s skies this year, adding to competition in a sector traded by at least three budget airlines and South African Airways.

Very little is known about the backers of Durban-based Velvet Sky, and a source who did not wish to be named said yesterday that it would be premature to comment on plans.

However, there is the website www.velvetsky.co.za that proclaims, "The countdown has begun" and advertises positions for pilots and other personnel required by the airline.

It is understood that the financial backers of the project have decided not to divulge their names at this stage, for fear of reputational risk should the project not proceed.

The South African Civil Aviation Authority confirmed yesterday it was evaluating an application for an air operator certificate for a company which it declined to name.

The certificate and an air service licence issued by the Air Service Licensing Council are prerequisites for any new operator or airline planning to conduct commercial flights in SA.

"In this case, the evaluation of the application is at an advanced stage and it is envisaged that the process will be concluded within a few weeks ... the applicant in question will offer scheduled commercial services to and from Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban," the aviation authority said in response to Business Day’s inquiries.

Zhakele Twala, deputy director-general of the Department of Transport, said the department was "not at liberty " to discuss applications for air service licences.

The civil aviation authority said it could issue an air operator certificate only when all the requirements evaluated during the certification process had been completed satisfactorily.

One of the last key activities that still needed to be undertaken for the airline application being evaluated was an emergency evacuation demonstration conducted on the airline’s aircraft.

A spokesman for KwaZulu-Natal economic development and tourism MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu said yesterday that "negotiations are at an advanced stage with a number of airlines", domestic and international, that would "hopefully" start using the city’s new King Shaka airport.

SA’s airline industry is in a state of structural change, with premium national airlines such as South African Airways losing market share against no-frills competitors such as JSE-listed 1time and kulula.com.

Last month, low-cost airline Mango took over all the Durban-to-Cape Town flights from its parent, South African Airways. The move has been interpreted as part of a strategy by the national carrier to exit short-haul routes where it has lost market share.