If Mango collapses, some 30,000 weekly seats will fall away – but prices won’t spike immediately

Business Insider SA

News analysis

  • Mango is one of South Africa's busiest airlines, and operated hundreds of flights each month.
  • If the airline remains grounded, some 30,000 seats will be up for grabs.
  • Some domestic routes may now be drastically underserved.
  • But with most airlines still operating under capacity, passengers should not see drastic price increases – immediately.
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Mango Airlines, once one of South Africa’s busiest low-cost airlines, was forced to ground all flights this week, leaving thousands of passengers unable to fly.

This grounding, should it last, will leave a gaping hole in South African skies - and leave several new routes that are underserved by an airline industry hit hard by Covid-19.

The Airports Company of SA (Acsa) on Wednesday lifted its ban on Mango, after the airline made a partial payment on outstanding debt and made promises around the rest, but its future remains uncertain, Fin24 reported.

If it remains in the skies until then, Mango may still go into hibernation for lack of funds on 1 May.

Until recently, the SAA subsidiary was operating up to 173 weekly flights in South Africa, on routes between Johannesburg, Durban, Gqeberha, George, Cape Town, and Bloemfontein. 

The airline was using its fleet of five active Boeing 737-800s - each of which holds a maximum of 186 passengers - to service these routes.

With Mango’s recent grounding, a maximum of more than 30,000 seats per week were removed from South African skies - and a share of these are now available to airlines competing on the same routes.

Mango’s two busiest routes, between Johannesburg and Cape Town, and Johannesburg and Durban, made up 109 of these weekly flights, which could, in theory, fly up to around 20,000 guests per week. 

These are routes well-catered for by competing airlines, though. At present, Kulula, British Airways, Airlink, Lift, and CemAir fly between Cape Town and Johannesburg and back around 72 times a day, and between Johannesburg and Durban and back around 39 times a day. 

With airline capacity still down from pre-coronavirus levels, it’s likely that the impact of Mango’s departure will be felt less on these busy routes - but it’s on the lesser serviced routes, like those between Cape Town and Bloemfontein, Johannesburg and George, and Johannesburg and Gqeberha, that passengers might notice issues with availability, and increased prices.

For example, before its grounding, Mango operated up to eight weekly flights between Cape Town and Bloemfontein that could carry a maximum of around 1,500 passengers. Airlink is the only other airline to compete directly on this route, and it can carry roughly the same amount of passengers - a maximum of 1 804 on its 41 reported weekly flights.

With roughly half of this route’s capacity now up for grabs, and Airlink’s limited capacity, demand may well outstrip supply – if travellers return.

Despite the potential setbacks to passengers should Mango fail to return to the skies permanently, South Africa is still seeing drastically fewer daily passengers than in pre-Covid-19 days.

Between April 2020 and March 2021, OR Tambo International saw just 3.2 million domestic passengers - down from 11.2 million the year before. Cape Town has also seen an equally drastic reduction - just 2.1 million passengers passed through that airport in the last year, down from 8.1 million the year before.

Yet despite fewer flyers, in the last year South Africa has seen the launch of a new low-cost airline, Lift, and the likes of Airlink moving into new routes to pick up some of the slack introduced by the collapse or slimming down of local airlines. And during the general aviation chaos last year, FlySafair, one of the country's more established low-cost operators, continued to expand its fleet.

In a statement in last year, the airline said that capacity in South Africa was down by roughly 70% from the previous year - and that FlySafair was operating more than 74% of the seats available.

“Now’s a great time to look to expand your fleet, if you’re in a position to do so, because with the industry being where it is, there are plenty of aircraft up for grabs at very reasonable prices” said Kirby Gordon, Chief Marketing Officer of FlySafair, in October.

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