South Africa's Velvet Sky temporarily halts flights to pay bills

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South African budget airline Velvet Sky has temporarily suspended operations after its fuel provider stopped deliveries on 24 February due to outstanding bills.

The carrier today halted services between its headquarter city of Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town but plans to resume flights on 5 March.

A company spokesman told Flightglobal that Velvet Sky had disagreements with its maintenance provider, South African Airways' engineering arm SAA Technical, last week and that its fuel provider and other suppliers then became "a little strict".

He added that although the airline had not broken a 30-day payment period, the fuel provider demanded that outstanding bills needed to be balanced before further supplies were forthcoming.

Fuel deliveries were blocked on 24 February.

Meanwhile, Velvet Sky has terminated its cooperation with SAA Technical and contracted the work to Johannesburg-based maintenance provider Jetworx, the spokesman said.

The airline is confident that the situation can be resolved and flights can resume on 5 March. This could lead to schedule and pricing changes though, he said.

Stephen Nthite, chairman of parent company Excalibur Aerospace, stated that the decision to suspend flights was "in no way an indication that the airline was unable to resolve issues that had negatively impacted on its business and caused a great deal of adverse publicity over the past week".

The operational halt comes nearly a year after Velvet Sky started flights between Durban and Johannesburg on 22 March 2011. It has a fleet of three Boeing 737-300s and uses a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 for ad hoc charter services.

"Well over 300,000" passengers have been transported since operations began, the airline said.

It was founded by steel company Macdonald Holdings but was sold to Excalibur Aerospace last year.