Hilka Birns/CAPE TOWN

A new southern African airline, Airlink Swaziland, will take to the skies on 13 June as a joint venture between South African regional carrier, SA Airlink, and the government of Swaziland.

The new carrier takes over from Royal Swazi National Airways which will close after years of losses. The Swazi national carrier suspended flights to Harare, Lusaka, Dar-es-Salaam and Nairobi on 12 April. Johannesburg-Manzini flights are being operated on the SA Airlink designator code with a 44-seat British Aerospace HS748 leased by Swaziland from Johannesburg-based Intensive Air.

Airlink Swaziland intends to take over the Johannesburg-Manzini route with three flights a day, using Royal Swazi's refurbished 70-seat Fokker F28 Mk3000 and a 30-seat Jetstream 41. Early morning and late afternoon flights with the F28 are aimed at the business market which will connect at Johannesburg International airport. Mid-day flights with the turboprop are aimed at the international market and will route Johannesburg-Manzini-Dar-es-Salaam-Manzini-Johannesburg.

SA Airlink chief executive Rodger Foster says Swaziland intends to privatise the airline. In terms of an agreement signed on 25 April, the government owns 60% and SA Airlink 40%, which will increase its shareholding to 51%. After two years, a 20% stake will be sold to the Swazi public, while government and SA Airlink will continue to hold 40% each.

While the new airline has not inherited its predecessor's losses, SA Airlink has sunk a "significant sum of money" into the new venture, says Foster.

Plans include replacing the F28 with a new generation jet in line with SA Airlink fleet upgrades.

Source: Flight International