Hilka Birns/CAPE TOWN

Successful expansion of routes and additional capacity has enabled Comair, British Airways' Cape Town-based franchisee, to post major gains in operating profit and sales.

Comair, which operates in South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, now holds 23% of the southern African domestic and intra-regional market. It plans further expansion as it seeks to build on a 53% gain in operating profit to R140 million ($20 million) and a 60% rise in turnover to R977 million in the year to the end of June.

Managing director Piet van Hoven attributes the results to increased passenger numbers, which grew from 982,000 to 1.3 million due to regional expansion and the introduction of four daily return flights between Durban and Cape Town. Capacity rose 36%, with three Boeing 737-200s and a 727-200 added.

Yields also improved, with increased numbers of business travellers attracted by "an improved route network and a high on-time performance standard," says van Hoven. Fuel price increases and Rand depreciation were partially offset by an 18% price rise.

Van Hoven says prospects for the current financial year are positive, and anticipates increased sales and "a bigger market share" on the back of optimism about the South African economy.

Comair, 18% owned by BA, plans to launch service to Kenya (Nairobi), Zambia (Lusaka and Ndola) and Malawi (Lilongwe), and increase frequencies to Harare and Victoria Falls, which van Hoven says are recovering from Zimbabwe's political turmoil. Johannesburg to Cape Town rotations will also increase to 13 a day .

Van Hoven adds that he is "not ready" to announce the narrowbody type that will replace six leased 727-200s. A tenth 737-200 has meanwhile arrived from BA.

Source: Flight International