BRITISH Midland International (bmi) is in the process of being sold by German airline Lufthansa to British Airways. This means it will be transferred from the Star Alliance of international airlines, to which SAA belongs, to the One World alliance, led by the International Aviation Group, formed by the merger of BA and Spanish airline Iberia.
At the same time, Virgin Atlantic Airways, which until now has remained independent of any international alliance, has consulted Deutsche Bank over the possible advantage of joining one.
Virgin, which flies to Joburg all year round, withdraws its service to Cape Town in winter. In winter, its passengers are carried between Cape Town and London by SAA under codeshare arrangements. It could, therefore, be convenient for both sides if it replaced the smaller and less high-profile bmi as the British member of the Star Alliance, particularly in view of the amount of traffic between the UK and South Africa and the number of business travellers who prefer to travel between this country and the US by way of London to taking the very long direct flight from Joburg.
Virgin, like its rival BA, has a number of convenient flights between London and the US and was not happy about competing alone against a combination of BA, Iberia and American Airlines in the US market.
There have been suggestions the British government may withdraw its unpopular passenger arrivals tax. Airlines and its own tourism authority have protested against the tax, which was introduced ostensibly to limit the amount of CO emitted by aircraft but which in fact is not ring-fenced for any anti- pollution measures but simply raises money for the UK fiscus.
Cynics have suggested hints the tax may be withdrawn have nothing to do with arguments against it but simply that it would be difficult for the government to continue to justify it while joining the rest of the EU in introducing a compulsory emissions trading scheme for all arriving aircraft.
Whatever the reason, the International Air Transport Association and most governments outside Europe are objecting to the compulsory emissions trading scheme on the grounds that Europe cannot tax airlines for emissions outside its air space. We shall see what happens next year. PE by air Low- cost airline Velvet Sky is launching a campaign to point out the advantages of flying to Port Elizabeth from Cape Town. It started the service in time for the Christmas holiday when thousands of workers leave the city, mostly by bus or taxi, to visit their families in the Eastern Cape. Most of them will have returned before the end of January, when tourists arrive from overseas and some to go on to Port Elizabeth and the Wild Coast.
Gary Webb, Velvet Sky’s chief operating officer, tells me the route is being well supported and the airline is “very happy with it”.
The Joburg-polokwane route, which the airline hopes will attract workers going home from Gauteng for the holidays, has been slower to start up because it received less publicity but is attracting passenger loads above 50 percent.
Both he and Karen Murray, spokeswoman for Airlink, which also flies between Joburg and Polokwane, said they catered for different markets. Velvet Sky flies three times a week and caters mainly for a price-sensitive market. Airlink caters mainly for business travellers, flies every day and times its flights for passengers leaving and returning in a single day.