South Africa's Comair has unveiled plans to incorporate turboprops in its network, initially with one ATR 72 on short-haul international routes from Johannesburg alternative airport Lanseria.

Comair currently operates a fleet of 20 Boeing 737s under the British Airways and low-cost brands. Comair joint CEO Gidon Novick tells ATI and Flightglobal the carrier has decided to expand into turboprops through a partnership with another operator.

Novick says the new operation will launch in April and initially include one ATR 72 operating on international routes of 500nm and less such as to Maputo in neighbouring Mozambique. Novick says Comair aims to differentiate itself by offering connections from Lanseria, an uncongested private airport north of Johannesburg where the airline now operates some domestic flights to Cape Town and Durban.

While Lanseria is an international airport all scheduled international flights at Johannesburg now operate from more congested OR Tambo Airport east of Johannesburg. Comair also operates most of its domestic flights and several intra-Africa international services from OR Tambo.

"We want to start a regional intra-Africa service from Lanseria, which has an international facility. We see an opportunity to offer very convenient regional flights," Novick explains. "There are a few regional destinations only 300 to 400 miles from Johannesburg. We see an opportunity to go into these and direct without the hassle of OR Tambo."

While Comair serves six international destinations in sub-Sahara Africa including in neighbouring Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, the carrier currently does not serve Mozambique. According to Innovata, Mozambique's carrier LAM currently operates three daily flights between OR Tambo and Maputo while South African Airways operates two daily frequencies and South African low-cost carrier 1Time operates five flights per week.

Novick say while the objective is to offer a new point-to-point service, offering business travellers the opportunity to fly from Lanseria to Maputo in the morning and back that evening, connections will also be available at Lanseria to Cape Town and Johannesburg.

While Comair has so far only committed to one ATR 72, the carrier sees the new regional fleet and network growing. The partnership and branding of the new regional operation will be formally unveiled by Comair over the next several weeks. While Comair will hire another airline to operate turboprops, Novick says "we'll oversee the operation from a safety standpoint".

While Comair now only has 737s in its BA and Kulula networks, last year the company forged a training partnership with ATR. As part of this partnership, Comair's training centre will host an ATR 72 simulator starting later this year.

ATR will be providing the simulator and a flight training programme, geared towards operators in the fast-growing African market. Novick says Comair already has simulators for 737-200s, 737 Classics and 737NGs that are used both by Comair and other 737 operators.

"Flight training is turning into quite a nice business," Novick says, adding the expanding pilot training centre is part of an initiative at Comair to diversify its revenue stream.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news