A flight from Cape Town to Angola’s capital city of Luanda can cost from R4,000 to R10,000, depending on your class of travel. But passengers may soon find themselves paying more competitive rates on this route when former SA Airways CEO Siza Mzimela’s new airline, Fly Blue Crane, takes to the sky.
Fly Blue Crane’s bid for rights between the two economic hubs was under wraps until the Financial Mail’s interview with Mzimela.
The transport department has yet to approve the application.
The green light could be significant for Fly Blue Crane, which kicked off its ambitious Africa growth strategy with a maiden flight to Windhoek out of Cape Town in May.
Mzimela, the CEO and a major shareholder, says the rights, when granted, will also propel the launch of more frequent commercial flight services to Windhoek out of Cape Town.
Fly Blue Crane is spreading its wings in other parts of the region as well. Recently Mozambican authorities approved the airline’s application for a foreign operator’s permit, and SA authorities have approved its plans to operate between Johannesburg and Manzini in Swaziland. It employs 102 people.
In October the airline will launch services between Johannesburg and Mthatha.
This is expected to unsettle rival SA Airlink, an associate of SAA. Mzimela launched Fly Blue Crane with ex-SAA colleagues Jerome Simelane and Theunis Potgieter less than a year ago.
Pundits have expressed surprise at Fly Blue Crane’s plan to launch fares from as low as R799, which would undercut the competition by more than 200%. "People get confused. It doesn’t mean every single seat in the aircraft is going to be [available at] R799," says Mzimela. But even the highest-priced ticket could be cheaper than the competition.
The trick is to strip out unnecessary costs, for example by reducing the number of items on the food tray while still offering appetising cuisine.
Fly Blue Crane does not consider itself to be a low-cost carrier. It operates between Johannesburg, Kimberley, Bloemfontein and Cape Town. A revival of the route between Johannesburg and Nelspruit, which it shut in December, is being considered, Mzimela says. But even as it grows, it will steer clear of flying between Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.
"We are always going to focus on the secondary markets. We have no real interest in primary routes," she says.
Fly Blue Crane is expected to turn its first profit in two years’ time and Mzimela says the business is open to new equity partners and a potential listing in the long term.
SAA is a topic Mzimela opts to stay clear of, saying only: "SAA has been blessed with a number of good people. It’s not as if people don’t know what needs to be done."
At Fly Blue Crane’s modest yet contemporary home in Isando, Mzimela, in an office about an eighth of the size of the plush space she occupied at SAA, is more relaxed than she was at the bigger airline.
Teething problems have never been far off in the past year, but Mzimela says becoming the first woman to launch an airline has been a gratifying decision. "It’s one thing to say I’ve run an airline. But there are not too many who can claim to have started one," she says.