Business Feature

Flyafrica – the Bird That Never Flew

By Timo Shihepo

Windhoek – Low budget airliner Fly Africa has seemingly given up the fight for the SADC market, after a decision to cease operation in some parts of the region, along with very little visibility in markets where the airline still hold operating licenses.

FlyAfrica is a Mauritius-based private equity aviation investment group that tried to offer cheaper services as part of its Pan-Africa low-fare strategy. It made headlines and sends shivers down the spines of state-owned airline companies when it introduced cheap routes across the region at a low ticket prices. The idea was greatly embraced by many people in Namibia who were only to pay as little as U$80 for a return ticket between Windhoek and Cape Town/Johannesburg.

It then had its operating licences withdrawn in Namibia and Zimbabwe in October 2015, which essentially grounded its entire operations and fleet of planes.

In Namibia the company faced a mountains of challenges that led to the local partner company, Nomad Aviation, to throw in the towel in December 2015, and disassociating itself completely from FlyAfrica. Former FlyAfrica Namibia Chief Executive Officer, and Nomad Aviation executive, Clifford Strydom, has confirmed to The Southern Times that Fly Africa has recently stopped all flights in the region and “we as a company [Nomad Aviation] have stopped all our association with the [FlyAfrica] airline.”

FlyAfrica was set to charge $100 for the return ticket for the Victoria Falls routes both in Zimbabwe and Johannesburg in South Africa, which otherwise cost about three times more if using national carriers. The company has had presence in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa.

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FlyAfrica entered the Namibian market through local company Nomad Aviation, selling air transport tickets worth N$3 million in a span of few days up until its maiden flight was grounded by the Namibian civil aviation authority.

The Namibian directorate of civil aviation successfully prohibited Nomad, which was trading as FlyAfrica Namibia, from flying citing aviation irregularity, absence of relevant licences and aviation validation. This left passenger stranded. The regulators also cited the safety of the airline’s aeroplanes. The DCA said then that had discovered that FlyAfrica uses planes that are not authorised under the civil aviation authority’s approved wet lease, which regulates such passenger services.

FlyAfrica was also dealt a blow by Air Namibia, the national airline, which successfully asked the Namibian High Court to bar FlyAfrica from using the route between Windhoek’s Hosea Kutako International Airport (HKIA) and the OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg, saying FlyAfrica only has licence to fly between Windhoek’s HKIA and Lanseria airport in Johannesburg.

Strydom said the company’s wings in Namibia, were really clipped when Air Namibia took them to court to prevent Fly Africa from transporting passengers from Windhoek to OR Tambo airport in South Africa.Strydom who refrained from uttering harsh words said, at first, in other SADC countries apart from Namibia they were just doing fine.

“In Namibia it’s quite the opposite. Everyone else in SADC was really accommodating but the challenge was only in Namibia. Don’t get me wrong the people in Namibia want us but the national airline doesn’t.

“The problem is that it only has one main shareholder and it is fighting tooth and nail so that it does not lose more customers. But really, if they didn’t want competition they could have just launched services that are affordable to people,” he said.

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In January this year however the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe (CAAZ) cleared FlyAfrica, to resume flying, ending a nearly three months suspension of its flying certificate. Zimbabwe’s regulatory body lifted the suspension placed on the operations of FlyAfrica after it successfully complied with all regulatory requirements.

In Zimbabwe FlyAfrica is operating in partnership between Chakanyuka Karase’s family investment vehicle called Fresh Air and Mike Bond of the now defunct One Time of South Africa.

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