Mangoes for sale in South Africa

South African Airways (SAA) has taken the wraps of its new low-cost airline subsidiary, Mango, which will launch on 15 November.

Mango aims to be the first airline that makes air travel affordable to most South Africans. South Africa already has two low-cost carriers, Kulula and 1time, but Mango claims it will be the first “true” low-cost carrier in the country.

“This airline is about taking air travel to the people,” SAA chairman Jakes Gerwel proclaimed during a launch event today.

Added Mango chairman Christo Wiese: “Mango will open the doors of safe and affordable travel for all South Africans, making air travel accessible for those who have never flown before, offering for the first time a real choice between the different modes of transportation, one of the backbones of our economy.”

The launch event took place at Market Theatre in a downtown Johannesburg rather than one of the richer suburbs, where most of South Africa’s corporations have relocated over the years. The selection of a venue in an area of Johannesburg the government is trying to revitalise was designed to send a message that this airline will not be for the wealthy but for South Africa’s working class.

Despite the establishment of Kulula and 1time, less than 5% of South Africans are now air travellers. SAA claims Kulula and 1time have gone after its passengers with slightly lower fares rather than try to attract the masses with real budget fares.

NardusW200.jpgMango chief executive Nico Bezuidenhout (left) says high aircraft utilisation (12.5 hours per day), high seat density (186 seats) and a fleet of new fuel efficient aircraft (Boeing 737-800s) will help Mango keep its costs down and allow it to offer lower fares than the competition. Kulula and 1ime operate older aircraft fewer hours per day in a less dense configuration.

Obviously Kulula and 1time, which have complained to competition authorities about the involvement of government-owned SAA in Mango, have a different perspective. It’s no secret that SAA is leasing Mango its initial fleet of four 737-800s and is loaning Mango R100 million ($13 million).

But SAA insists the start-up is independent and is in full compliance with South African competition regulations. “This airline will be a wholly-owned subsidiary of South African Airways, but operated at arm’s length,” says SAA chief executive Khaya Ngqula. “It will be flexible and able to move around quicker than we can.”

It’s hard to say what impact Mango’s launch will have, but it certainly will shake up the already dynamic and colourful South African market.

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