Flyafrica spreads its wings…briefly

Flyafrica spreads its wings…briefly

Low-cost airline group Flyafrica succeeded in launching its long-delayed Namibian subsidiary on 2nd September – only to be grounded two days later by a High Court ruling.

Flag-carrier Air Namibia objected to the launch of its new rival, arguing that it lacked the necessary licence to fly from Windhoek to Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport. The airline also accused Flyafrica’s local affiliate, Nomad Aviation, of being a front for foreign management.

Private equity investment vehicle Flyafrica Ltd, which is part-owned by South African arms trader Ivor Ichikowitz, has been trying to introduce low-cost flights to the continent since its first subsidiary launched in Zimbabwe in July 2014.

The airline group abides by the European-style no-frills business model, but cannot launch routes at will due to burdensome regulations governing intra-African flights. Management must instead sign joint-venture agreements with local partners at each new base. European airlines, by contrast, have the freedom to position aircraft anywhere in the continent independently.

Namibia was to become Flyafrica’s second subsidiary behind Zimbabwe, with chief executive Adrian Hamilton-Manns also promising new franchises in Gabon and Mozambique.

Flyafrica said in a statement, “This is a bad decision for Namibia and penalises the Namibian traveller, while protecting … the airline.”

Though blocked from serving OR Tambo Airport, Flyafrica Namibia has High Court approval to fly into Lanseria Airport, a secondary gateway in Johannesburg. The company was evaluating whether to take up that option at the time of writing.

Rene Gsponer, Air Namibia’s outgoing managing director, has been a vocal critic of Flyafrica ever since it announced plans to launch in Namibia. “We are not afraid [of competition],” he told African Business in June, after filing a separate challenge. “All we’re saying is they have to follow the same regulations as any other carrier.” 

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