South African Airways boss Siza Mzimela said she had no problem with plans by competitor Comair to introduce direct international flights between Durban and London, because it was a market the national airline did not serve.
She was responding to questions at a press conference following SAA’s annual breakfast at the Indaba tourism expo in Durban on Monday.
Mzimela’s comments came in the wake of the KwaZulu-Natal government and Dube TradePort Corporation announcing an agreement with Comair at the weekend.
The agreement would see a route being established between King Shaka International Airport and London’s Gatwick International, in addition to Nairobi and other African cities.
“Frankly we welcome this development, rather than see it as a fight. We need to look at the big picture and the fact is that this is a market not served,” said Mzimela.
“I am happy that someone will be able to service a market that we can’t. However, I think that it needs to be done carefully, because margins are tight in the airline industry. We all need to act wisely in terms of opening up new routes,” she added.
JSE-listed Comair, which operates kulula.com and the British Airways franchise in South Africa, is the country’s largest privately owned airline.
Mzimela said SAA was continuously “looking at new opportunities”, but that it was part of an airline alliance and worked on the “hub and spoke” strategy.
“We’ve got good connectivity to Durban; it’s just a matter of a short trip to Joburg and heading on internationally. We are placing a lot of emphasis on Africa, where the greatest growth is coming from,” she said.
SAA board chairwoman Cheryl Carolus said the airline had a “finite fleet” and there was only so much that it could do.
“We need to look at how best we can use this fleet and invest in routes that make the best business sense.
“The (Comair) agreement with KZN is actually fantastic news for the country and will ultimately be good for the industry in terms of competition – and it’s also good for the customers.
“This is a huge sign of confidence in South Africa’s aviation industry and tourism,” she said.
Last week, at the Hospitality Investment Conference Africa, KZN Tourism MEC Michael Mabuyakhulu said the province had had fruitless negotiations with SAA to re-establish a service between Durban and London.