Blue Crane eyes Africa

CityPress - - Business - JUSTIN BROWN justin.brown@city­

Lo­cal start-up air­line Fly Blue Crane has set its sights on con­quer­ing Africa, and the car­rier is work­ing on in­tro­duc­ing flights from South Africa to Namibia, Mozam­bique and Swazi­land.

Fly Blue Crane CEO Siza­kele Mz­imela this week said that, con­trary to what some peo­ple said, just be­cause she was a black woman didn’t mean that start­ing and run­ning the com­pany was an easy thing to do.

“Ev­ery day is a chal­lenge. We are grow­ing through the pains of be­ing a start-up. We are am­bi­tious and look to mit­i­gate risk as much as pos­si­ble,” she said.

Mz­imela is a for­mer SAA and SA Ex­press CEO, and she made these com­ments at the air­line’s head of­fice in Isando, which is a stone’s throw away from OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

One qual­ity that Mz­imela, who has 20 years of avi­a­tion ex­pe­ri­ence, brought with her from SAA was a pas­sion for the con­ti­nent.

While she was the CEO of SAA, Mz­imela, who is the first woman to sit on the In­ter­na­tional Air Trans­port As­so­ci­a­tion board, added eight new routes in Africa to the air­line’s sched­ule.

The first leg of Fly Blue Crane’s strat­egy is to start in the do­mes­tic mar­ket, while the sec­ond leg is aimed at advancing to un­der­ser­viced routes in Africa.

“There are greater re­turns in the re­gional space com­pared with the lo­cal sec­ondary routes,” she said.

The air­line on Fri­day launched a route be­tween Cape Town and Wind­hoek.

Fly Blue Crane is also set­ting up flights to Ma­puto, Mozam­bique, and Manzini, Swazi­land, and the de­part­ment of trans­port has is­sued the air­line with for­eign op­er­at­ing per­mits for the two coun­tries.

How­ever, be­fore Fly Blue Crane can start fly­ing there, the gov­ern­ments of Swazi­land and Mozam­bique also need to is­sue the com­pany with for­eign op­er­at­ing per­mits. The air­line will have to set up proper sup­port for its air­craft in the coun­tries, in­clud­ing ground han­dling and main­te­nance.

Mz­imela is also eye­ing flights be­tween Cape Town and An­gola, as well as be­tween Cape Town and Harare.

A fur­ther route in Africa that Mz­imela said was a big op­por­tu­nity for the air­line was be­tween Kinshasa, the cap­i­tal of the Demo­cratic Re­pub­lic of Congo, and Lubum­bashi, the key city in that coun­try’s Cop­per Belt.

Mz­imela said she knew of South African com­pa­nies that flew their staff from Kinshasa to Jo­han­nes­burg and then on to Lubum­bashi, be­cause there was no ded­i­cated route be­tween the two cities.

Lusaka in Zam­bia is yet an­other des­ti­na­tion on her radar.

The fo­cus of Fly Blue Crane, which launched in Septem­ber 2015, has been on South Africa’s sec­ondary, un­der­ser­viced routes, es­pe­cially cater­ing for the needs of busi­ness­peo­ple, which means it is a full-ser­vice op­er­a­tion and not a bud­get car­rier.

The air­line, which has SA Ex­press, SA Air­link and CemAir as its di­rect com­peti­tors, ser­vices the routes be­tween Jo­han­nes­burg, Bloem­fontein and Kim­ber­ley, and be­tween Cape Town, Bloem­fontein and Kim­ber­ley.

Mz­imela said there was also a great need for cargo trans­port along the routes it op­er­ates, and the com­pany wanted to ex­pand into this area.

She also sees an op­por­tu­nity for flights from Jo­han­nes­burg to Richards Bay and from Jo­han­nes­burg to Pi­eter­mar­itzburg.

At the mo­ment, Fly Blue Crane leases two 50-seater air­craft from So­lenta Avi­a­tion.

“Over the next few months, we would like to grow from leas­ing two air­craft to four,” Mz­imela said.

Fly Blue Crane’s share­hold­ers are Mz­imela, who has a con­trol­ling stake; the com­pany’s com­mer­cial di­rec­tor, Jerome Sime­lane; the air­line’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, The­u­nis Pot­gi­eter; and Jac­que­line Jan­tjies, an avi­a­tion in­vestor and busi­ness­woman.

The air­line’s em­ploy­ees have grown from 45 to 104 since it launched. The in­crease is partly due to Fly Blue Crane tak­ing on its own han­dling and air­port op­er­a­tional staff.

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