South African Airlink - the feeder partner in the SAA, SA Express, SA Airlink alliance in which SAA recently acquired 10% shareholding, is to spend 2.5 billion on 30 new Brazilian-produced Embraer jet aircraft.
The availability of the new fleet of 37 seater aircraft, coupled with the feeder airline’s new relationship with SAA, would in future enable SA Airlink to utilise several new route opportunities in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Recent moves towards liberalization of African skies have paved the way for the scrapping of many old and dated bilateral air service agreements. South Africa and Zimbabwe, for example, recently entered into a new agreement likely to be the first of many such revisions between South Africa and other African states.
Furthermore, Southern African Development Community protocols to uphold free trade areas will also affect air transportation regulations. Routes, which may have been uneconomical, but protected by the various African States in the past, can now be replaced by outside airlines with more suitable frequencies and equipment.
The destinations likely to be serviced by SA Airlink’s new augmented fleet from Johannesburg would include Bulawayo, Ndola, Blantyre, Lilongwe, Livingstone as well as both East and West Africa. Timetables would be linked with international and local connections from Johannesburg International Airport where appropriate.
The new air regulations in Africa will also allow us to forge partnerships to develop local feeder services to countries such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia. Such an arrangement already successfully operates between SA Airlink and Swaziland.
The expansion of opportunities in Africa has meant that our fleet needed to be increased. We considered acquiring new generation jet aircraft from three major global manufacturers and eventually the choice fell on the Brazilian Government-owned Embraer135 regional jets. The Airbus Corporation holds a 25% interest in this reputable company operating in a country with which South Africa is currently strengthening trade ties.
SA Airlink has ordered 30 Embraer 37 seater jets valued in total at around R2,5 billion. We have the option of extending the order by another 30. The aircraft will be commissioned in eight annual phases starting with the delivery of four aircraft in 2001. Our order with Embraer may be converted to 70 seater jet equipment in future if necessary.
SA Airlink’s current fleet of 16 Jetstream 41 aircraft ( seating capacity - 29 ) would be retained for the foreseeable future, primarily for local and redeployment usage. We could, however, introduce the new Embraer 135 jets to all the routes we service in South African with the exception of Nelspruit where the airport is currently not able to accommodate jet equipment.
SA Airlink plans to increase its presence on the African continent would act as a catalyst to large-scale development in all countries affected.
Substantial employment opportunities would be created and local economies given important boosts.