Mango fate up in the air until it sees state money
Rival SA firms circle Zanzibar as skint carrier strands clients
● The National Treasury has allocated R819m to allow cash-strapped SA Airways subsidiary Mango to keep operating, but it is not clear when the airline will receive the money or whether it will be enough to keep the low-cost carrier in the skies.
Last week the airline teetered on the edge of business rescue, but this was averted and the airline was able to continue local operations over this past week.
In its 2021 Appropriation Bill, the Treasury allocated R819m for Mango, indicating that this forms part of the R2.7bn set aside for SAA subsidiaries Mango, SAA Technical and Air Chefs.
The R2.7bn in turn is part of the R10.5bn allocated by the Treasury for the implementation of SAA’s business rescue plan.
The Treasury said this week, in response to questions on the timing of the Mango payout, that the “funds will only be disbursed after the Special Appropriation Bill is assented in law [and] becomes an act.”
Asked whether the funding for Mango will be enough to prevent it from going into business rescue, the Treasury referred Business Times to the department of public enterprises.
The department said questions about Mango’s funding had to be addressed by the air- line as these are operational issues.
Benediction Zubane, head of marketing and communications at Mango, said: “Until we receive a formal and official update from our shareholder, which is imminent, we are unable to comment on your questions.” Mango flew locally this week, but Zubane confirmed on Monday that flights to and from Zanzibar, a popular regional route for the airline, “are still temporarily suspended for now”.
“Should the situation change, we will update the public accordingly,” he said.
Meanwhile, passengers who had flown to Zanzibar on holiday before Mango’s cash crunch was made public and who were unable to take the airline’s last flight back to SA on April 27 had to scramble to make alternative flight plans. Rachel Lailey, a communications specialist who flew to Zanzibar on Mango on April 17 for a holiday, said she was originally meant to fly back to SA on the airline on May 4.
When she heard that flights to and from Zanzibar would be suspended, with the last flight out on Mango being on April 27, she changed her flight to that date but was unable to get a Covid-19 test done in time to take it.
“I then tried to change my flight back to May 4 because in the time since I had changed it I had heard that flights had resumed again,” said Lailey.
“But I couldn’t change it back and I tried calling their call centre in Zanzibar and they didn’t know what was going on.”
Mango later responded to e-mails from her, saying that while it was “pleased” to notify her that the airline is operational, Zanzibar is “not available until further notice”.
Lailey said she now plans to fly to Harare this week on Air Tanzania. She will fly back to SA from Zimbabwe.
“It’s very frustrating.
“I’ve lost time and money through this and I haven’t even received proactive communication from Mango,” she said. Meanwhile, Mango’s competitors are looking keenly at the Zanzibar route, which aviation economist Joachim Vermooten said is probably quite lucrative.
It is, however, difficult to assess because the airline — which is the only South African operator to serve the island — never released public results.
Kirby Gordon, chief marketing officer of low-cost carrier FlySafair, said FlySafair would love to “operate to Zanzibar” as the airline has an international licence, which permits it to put on charters for private clients to Zanzibar.
But he said the airline would not be able to start a scheduled operation to Zanzibar without being awarded the rights to operate that route by the Air Licensing Council, which falls under the department of transport.
CemAir CEO Miles van der Molen said his airline will “certainly look” at the Zanzibar route.
“We fit nicely for that kind of route but that process is very slow. It goes through the department of transport. Those frequencies first effectively have to be taken away from them [Mango] before they can be allocated elsewhere.”
Airlink CEO Rodger Foster said his airline, which already operates flights to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania four times a week, had been approached by hospitality operators and government authorities in Zanzibar, asking it to consider operating directly to Zanzibar.
“It is something we would look at. Others have applied for the Zanzibar route and we haven’t got an application in for the Zanzibar route, but we are already providing services to Dar es Salaam so people can get to Zanzibar through Dar es Salaam already,” said Foster.
He said Airlink may look at operating in Zanzibar on a “charter basis once a week”.