BRITISH AIRWAYS' franchising operation has made its first non-European foray, signing an agreement with South Africa's leading independent airline, Comair.

The franchise, which starts on 1 October, sees Comair remaining independent with no BA equity investment. Southern Africa is an important market for British Airways, and Comair, which serves Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Richard's Bay and Skukuza in South Africa, and Harare, Gaborone, Manzini and Windhoek in neighbouring countries, is expected to provide considerably enhanced feed into BA's long-haul flights.

Piet van Hoven, Comair's managing director, has no doubt about the benefits, which are likely to accrue. "Branding will achieve a substantially improved international market reach," he says.

Comair is acquiring two Boeing 727-200s on lease from Safair in September, which will enable increased frequencies on its routes, and the opening of a Cape Town-Windhoek connection. New domestic services to Johannesburg are also on the agenda.

By October, the Comair fleet will consist of six Boeing 737-200s, two 727-200s, four Fokker F.27-200s and two ATR 42-300s. All aircraft will operate in BA colours. A major upgrade of the fleet is under consideration in the longer term, possibly with Airbus A320s or McDonnell Douglas MD-80s.

The addition of Comair represents the first stage of British Airways' plans to take the franchise brand worldwide, says George Cooper, BA director UK and Africa. "Our franchise business is one of the successes of the 1990s - growing from a turnover of zero to more than £50 million in two years," he adds.

The BA franchising network encompasses UK operators Brymon Airways, CityFlyer Express, GB Airways, Loganair, Maersk Air (UK) and Manx Airlines (Europe), Sun-Air in Denmark.

Source: Flight International