Changes as air­lines gear to­wards fes­tive sea­son


Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL 2011 - AU­DREY D’AN­GELO

BRI­TISH Mid­land In­ter­na­tional (bmi) is in the process of be­ing sold by Ger­man air­line Lufthansa to Bri­tish Air­ways (BA), which means that 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 (IAG), 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 ad­van­tages of join­ing one. Vir­gin, which flies to Joburg all year round, with­draws its ser­vices to Cape Town in win­ter, re­turn­ing at the end of Oc­to­ber.

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 high­pro­file 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 rather than tak­ing the very long di­rect flight from Jo­han­nes­burg.

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 that the Bri­tish govern­ment may with­draw its un­pop­u­lar pas­sen­ger ar­rivals tax, which has un­doubt­edly acted as a de­ter­rent to in­com­ing tourism, es­pe­cially from long­haul des­ti­na­tions.

Air­lines and its own tourism au­thor­ity have protested against the tax, which was in­tro­duced os­ten­si­bly to limit the amount of CO2 emit­ted by air­craft but which in fact is not ring-fenced for any anti-pol­lu­tion mea­sures but sim­ply raises more money for the UK fis­cus. Cyn­ics have sug­gested that hints that the tax may be with­drawn have noth­ing to do with ar­gu­ments against it but are sim­ply be­cause 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 (IATA) 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 own air space. We shall see what hap­pens next year.

Low cost air­line Vel­vet Sky is launch­ing a cam­paign to point out the ad­van­tages of fly­ing to Port El­iz­a­beth from Cape Town rather than trav­el­ling by road.

It has started its ser­vice on the route in time for the Christ­mas hol­i­days 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, some to go on to Port El­iz­a­beth and the Wild Coast af­ter spend­ing time in Cape Town.

Gary Webb, Vel­vet Sky’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer, tells me that the route is al­ready be­ing well sup­ported and the air­line is “very happy with it”.

He said the route be­tween Jo­han­nes­burg and Polok­wane, which the air­line hopes will at­tract work­ers go­ing home from Gaut­eng for the hol­i­days, has been slower to start up be­cause it has re­ceived less pub­lic­ity but is at­tract­ing pas­sen­ger loads above 50 per­cent, in­clud­ing some busi­ness peo­ple and tourists.

Both he and Karen Murray, spokes­woman for Air­link, which also flies be­tween Joburg and Polok­wane, said they catered for dif­fer­ent mar­kets.

Vel­vet Sky at present flies only three times a week and caters mainly for a price-sen­si­tive mar­ket.

Air­link, which caters mainly for busi­ness trav­ellers, flies ev­ery day and times its flights for the con­ve­nience of pas­sen­gers go­ing and re­turn­ing in a sin­gle day.

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