Former South African Airways boss Mike Myburgh has launched a South African charter airline that plans to fly to Israel, Mecca and the Bahamas.

SA Non-Scheduled Airlines, which has a South African charter licence, will operate from Johannesburg International Airport with a Boeing 707 and 737, both registered in South Africa. It is awaiting an Israeli foreign operator's permit to begin once-weekly flights to Tel Aviv this month, in co-operation with Arkia Israel Airlines.

The SA company will operate the north-bound leg and Arkia the south-bound one.

Myburgh declines to elaborate on his plans. "I don't want to be seen as taking on SAA," he says. "There are gaps in the market which I believe we can fill."

Israel's "Holy Land 2000" millennium promotion is resulting in increased pilgrimage tours from South Africa and other parts of the world. Arkia's South African representative, Moshe Eyal, says the charters will relieve a dire shortage of seats on the route.

SAA recently axed its own services to Tel Aviv, citing low yields, and established a codeshare with El Al Israeli Airlines, which is boosting its services to four a week by March. South African tour operators allege that the move was aimed at limiting the seat availability on the route, enabling the airlines to increase their fares, but El Al says the 15% fare rise on 27 October was a "normal seasonal adjustment". Eyal says the charter airline plans to undercut scheduled fares by 50%.

Myburgh took early retirement from a loss-making SAA in June 1998 as part of a management reshuffle which brought in US turnaround specialist Coleman Andrews, who reported a R80 million ($13 million) SAA profit by March 1999.

Source: Flight International