Comair on Monday announced the imminent arrival of a new R900 million Boeing 737-800 as the latest addition to its British Airways fleet.
The aircraft is one of eight in Comair’s R3.5 billion fleet renewal programme and will service the airline’s new route, the first-ever air service to the remote Atlantic ocean island of St Helena.
Comair also announced a new code-share agreement between itself and Qatar Airways, that will add five new African destinations to the Qatar Airways route map. Comair flies to South Africa, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia.
Comair CEO Erik Venter says ticket sales for St Helena will commence as soon as the airport has been certified by the British Civil Aviation Authority. This, he said, should happen soon and the first flight will hopefully take place in May.
The aircraft had to be fitted with electronic navigation aids for the long flight that will take place once a week. For the rest of the week it will be utilised on other Comair routes.
Venter said at first the passenger volumes to and from St Helena are expected to be low and the route will be subsidised by the British government. “We wouldn’t take all the risk on a route like that. We share the risk with the British government,” he said. Comair earlier won a tender by the British government to provide airlift into St Helena. In terms of the agreement the British government may reduce the price of flight tickets, for example to stimulate tourism.
St Helena is a British overseas territory and the British government has funded the development of the island’s new and first airport, that was built by South African construction company Basil Read. The air access is expected to break the extreme isolation of the tiny island where French emperor Napoleon as well as Boer prisoners of war were kept captive at different times in history.
Speaking about the new aircraft Venter said: “This acquisition is a strong indicator of our confidence in leisure and business travel, and that’s borne out by Iata (the International Air Transport Association), whose recent statistics show that in November African airlines enjoyed their fifth consecutive month of growth.
“The new aircraft will help us embrace opportunities like the new Saint Helena route. In addition to our existing British Airways (operated by Comair) route network which includes South Africa, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia.”
The new aircraft will be fitted with split-scimitar winglets: vertical wingtip extensions that reduce drag and provide lift, cutting fuel consumption and lowering the aircraft’s carbon footprint, Venter said.
It will seat up to 160 passengers and, with an improvement in the design of the overhead bins, it enables a 50% increase in carry-on bags, Venter said.
Venter told Moneyweb that the partnership with Qatar is aimed at long-term growth. Initially it is expected to contribute a small volume increase, but Comair is pursuing every bit of growth it can, he said.
Comair’s share price increased by 3.45% on Monday to R3.
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