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Avia becomes Africa's latest casualty casualty

AVIA AIRLINES has filed for bankruptcy protection, becoming the latest casualty in the chequered history of recent South African start-ups.

The independent airline, which used a leased Boeing 747SP from South African Airways, began operations in May, flying three times a week from Johannesburg to London Gatwick.

Avia filed for provisional liquidation, similar to US Chapter 11 procedure, on 2 August, claiming liabilities of R21 million ($6 million).

Chairman and owner Gert de Klerk blames the collapse on a discount-ticket campaign, which had run out of control.

Sources within Avia's management say that the airline owes two months'-worth of lease payments.

Before its collapse, Avia had apparently been operating the 270-seat aircraft at load factors of around 80%. Plans had also been agreed to start flying to the USA.

Sources suggest that the liquidation was partially motivated, by de Klerk's reluctance to pay a R10 million deposit to the South African Civil Aviation Authority to cover potential claims in the event of bankruptcy.

Technically, Avia could re-emerge from the liquidation, but hundreds of passengers left stranded at Gatwick and Johannesburg were told that the company " longer exists as an airline ".

Avia joins a list of recent airline failures in the region, including US-based USAfrica, which entered Chapter 11 in 1994, but is now attempting a comeback on the US-South Africa route. Domestic carrier, Flitestar, also entered liquidation in 1994.