Blue Crane eyes Africa
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.