South African National Taxi Council launches airline

The South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) today launched its low cost airline SANTACO Airways at Lanseria airport in Johannesburg, becoming the second new airline to launch in South Africa this year.

The innovative airline promises an all-inclusive package that involves ferrying passengers to and from airports in minibus taxis.

SANTACO Airlines’ first flight took off from the private Lanseria airport in Johannesburg this morning bound for Bhisho in the Eastern Cape. The proof of concept flight comes ahead of planned commercial operations in November, when the airline plans to fly between Lanseria, Bhisho and Cape Town.

SANTACO has said that prices for trips between Cape Town and Johannesburg would amount to between R500 and R600 and between Durban and Johannesburg about R300.

“Today is a historic day for our country,” said President Jacob Zuma during the launch at Lanseria. “We applaud SANTACO for this brave step, in giving the country its first fully black owned airline.”

The launch comes as SANTACO celebrates ten years of existence. “A sector that was branded by some as never going to be able to progress to even own fleets of buses, has leapfrogged into the aviation industry by owning an airline. It is therefore an honour and a privilege for me to join SANTACO in celebrating this milestone,” Zuma said.

Santaco secretary-general Philip Taaibosch said that, “This is a historic day for the taxi industry. We are not rewriting history; we are part of the history of South Africa.”

Gauteng roads and transport MEC Ismail Vadi said that, “The taxi industry has come of age. In the 1970s, it was small, uncoordinated, narrow. Over the past 30 to 40 years, the industry has become a major player.”

Zuma said that at the moment, while Airports Company of South Africa airports around the country handle more than 18 million passengers per year, most South Africans do not have access to air transport due to the high cost of air travel and “an unfortunate perception…that air travel is the exclusive preserve of a privileged few. SANTACO is therefore opening air travel to the masses, building on the contribution of other low cost airlines that entered the market recently.”

The launch of SANTACO Airlines comes just six months after the launch of Velvet Sky, another low cost airline, based in Durban. While this may indicate a robust market, domestic airlines are struggling with high oil prices and lacklustre demand. 1time made a loss in the first six months of this year while Comair, which operates Kulula.com and British Airways, reported a drop in profit in the year ending June.

Comair joint CEO Erik Venter said he expects the next two years in the domestic travel market to be tough with little or no growth as jet fuel prices remain high and consumers continue to feel squeezed. Further affecting airlines is the increase in airport taxes.

Perhaps now is a good time for SANTACO’s low cost model that includes transport to and fro the airport. Although domestic airlines are not optimistic about the future, passenger numbers have been growing more than 10% per annum. South Africa is home to more than 70% of aviation activities in the SADC region.

“In conclusion…the launch of the airline is both an achievement and a challenge, and hopefully an indication of many innovative projects still to come,” Zuma said. “May the SANTACO Airlines bring pride and hope to the millions of South Africans, as your slogan boldly suggests, ‘Fly with Pride.’ We welcome this launch wholeheartedly, and wish you success in this first endeavor. This should pave way for your intended expansion to other routes, including the broader SADC region.”

The Democratic Alliance (DA) said it “welcomes the start of this new chapter in the history of both the taxi and the civil aviation industry, which will make air travel more accessible and affordable to all South Africans, and shorten air travel times between Gauteng and the Eastern Cape.”

“This initiative has also contributed to the upgrading of the Eastern Cape airports at Bhisho and Mthatha, and will hopefully provide a much needed boost to the region's economy, in particular the tourism and automotive industries,” stated Manny de Freitas, the DA’s Shadow Deputy Minister of Transport.

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