Travel

FlySafair is plugging some gaps – but Kulula’s grounding is going to mean flying costs more

Business Insider SA
FlySafair flights
(Image supplied)
  • The South African Civil Aviation Authority has ordered the indefinite suspension of Comair’s Kulula.com and British Airways.
  • This stranded around 40% of all weekend air travellers, with low-cost carrier FlySafair adding 10 additional flights to plug the gap.
  • These flights didn’t come cheap, but every single one was sold out.
  • And the cost of flying around South Africa is expected to stay high, as demand outstrips supply.
  • Rising oil prices will also see an increase in the cost of jet fuel, making air travel even more expensive.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Low-cost carrier FlySafair accommodated passengers left stranded by Kulula.com and British Airways’ sudden suspension enforced by the South African Civil Aviation Authority(SACAA). But flights aren’t cheap.

Comair, which operates by Kulula.com and British Airways in South Africa, was slapped with a temporary suspension on Saturday. The suspension, handed down by the SACAA because of the recent spate of safety incidents at Comair, then became indefinite on Sunday.

The suspension stranded thousands of weekend travellers. Last-minute cancellations threw airports across the country into disarray. Local low-cost carrier FlySafair – one of the few airlines left operating with reach throughout South Africa – was inundated with requests.

“This weekend’s groundings meant that almost 4 in every 10 passengers due to travel were left stranded,” said Kirby Gordon, FlySafair’s chief marketing officer.

“Our fleet was fully deployed on the published schedule, so it was challenging to add more capacity because we simply didn’t have spare aircraft or crew to mobilise at this time.”

Utilising spare aircraft, FlySafair managed to increase its seating capacity by introducing 10 additional flights. Not a single FlySafair seat was left empty on Sunday.

Spare seats did not come cheap, thanks to the sudden surge in demand from stranded Comair passengers, coupled with already-higher rates for imminent flights.

With fewer seats in the air to go around, and no clear indication of when Comair will resume operations, flights around South Africa are expected to remain more costly.

“There’s so much capacity that’s taken out of the market, so we’re capacity constrained,” Kirby told Business Insider South Africa.

“So, the theory holds true that they [airline fares] will stay higher.”

But it’s not only Comair’s grounding that will put more pressure on air passengers’ pockets. Rising oil prices – emanating from the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the global sanctions which have followed – will see an increase in the cost of jet fuel.

“We’re all aware of how the oil price has shot up recently due to international developments, and this obviously has a massive impact on the price of jet fuel, which accounts for almost 40% of our cost base,” said Gordon.

“Airlines, especially low-cost carriers who operate on high-frequency routes like us, are generally considered to be what economists call price-takers, which means that the fares we can achieve are set by market forces of supply and demand. It’s not really within our power to simply pass costs on to consumers, but the viability threshold of our business does rise and so there comes a price point where it’s no longer economically viable.”

And while FlySafair seats are in high demand, Kirby explained that Comair’s grounding would have a negative impact on South Africa’s aviation market.

“Many believe that we’d be happy with circumstances like these where we are able to fill our aircraft, but the truth is that it’s bad for the market. Selling those last few seats is good but it doesn’t offset the cost of the long-term damage to the industry,” said Kirby.

“South Africa needs healthy competition amongst airlines and customers need to know that they can rely on their carrier of choice. Unfortunately, situations like this one are not good for anyone in the long run.”

Kirby told Business Insider that it would, where possible, continue to make additional seats available. But with its already busy flight schedule, no guarantees on extra FlySafair flights could be given.

(Compiled by Luke Daniel)

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