Comair quickly and surreptitiously moved its Kulula-branded Boeing 737 aircraft from Lanseria Airport to OR Tambo International Airport just hours before announcing it was to stop flying – even while a special ticket sale was still in progress.
A question mark still hangs around Comair’s decision to run the Kulula brand 30% off sale on the same day that the company announced cessation of operations. Comair had to have known that going belly-up may have been imminent.
Even staff saw the writing on the wall, an inside source told Saturday Citizen. The Kulula-branded aircraft was moved out of Lanseria at around 8pm on 31 May, the night of the sale.
Another source inside the company said that this was not a planned repositioning flight. Both Lanseria Airport and Air Traffic Navigation Services (ATNS) confirmed the one-way flight took place.
A source inside Comair claims the reason for repositioning of its aircraft to OR Tambo may have been to avoid a comparable situation that the airline faced in March, when it was grounded by the SA Civil Aviation Authority.
Lanseria Airport allegedly placed a lien on Kulula aircraft during that time to ensure outstanding debts were paid prior to recommencement of operations.
Lanseria spokesperson Nomasiko Paarehwa would not respond to questions about whether a lien was placed on Comair’s aircraft first time around, nor would she be drawn on the outstanding debt owed to the airport.
“Presently we are still under contract with Comair and, as such, any commercial arrangements remain confidential,” she said.
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The insider estimated Comair’s debt to Lanseria was around R17 million earlier this year. Asked whether it was owed money by Comair, Acsa said only: “The approach of [Acsa] to our business relationship with Comair is consistent with our approach to other airlines based on the terms and conditions entered into contractually, details of which remain confidential.”
A business rescue practitioner, who did not want to be named, told Saturday Citizen Comair must have known its cash flow had a giant hole in it well before going on sale and well before shutting up shop. The practitioner said it was not the kind of decision that happens within a matter of hours after raising cash on a fire sale.
That is, unless the money raised did not match expectations.
He added it was a disingenuous move and while he could not directly say whether it was tantamount to reckless trading or verging on criminal, he said it was not exactly honest, either.
The source said senior Comair management were informed shortly after 10pm on 31 May, in a call that only management should report to work on 1 June, and that the shutdown was happening. Comair had been paying staff on a week-to-week basis over the previous six weeks.
In an online meeting in April, the company’s losses for February and March were allegedly shared, topping a whopping R118 million. Yet, at the end of April, the business rescue practitioner’s report still read that it believed Comair could be rescued and that by the end of June, it intended to file a substantial notice of completion with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission.
Comair’s business rescue practitioners had not responded to any queries by the time of going to print.
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