South Africa’s newest low-cost airline has pan-African ambitions

Skywise is now officially South Africa’s newest low-cost airline having started its scheduled daily flights between Cape Town and Johannesburg yesterday.

By end of April the Skywise hopes to increase number of weekly flights from 28 to 52, and will also be looking at other routes over the next few months.

By end of April Skywise hopes to increase number of weekly flights from 28 to 52, and will also be looking at other routes over the next few months.

Originally the brainchild of the founders of the failed South African airline 1time, Skywise was acquired by PAK Africa Aviation, the Middle Eastern-backed investment firm with a clear interest in the aviation industry. Pak Africa also reportedly has plans to resurrect the 1time name as a pan-African carrier in upcoming years, starting with domestic flights in Zimbabwe.

Skywise is the fourth new airline in the past two years targeting domestic flights. But according to PAK Africa’s CEO and co-chairperson of Skywise, Tabassum Qadir, there is more than enough demand for another low-cost carrier in the South African market.

“According to our research, about four million passengers travel between Johannesburg and Cape Town for the whole year,” she told How we made it in Africa.

“And with all the airlines the capacity available is for three and a half million. So we think that there are a half a million passengers which we can tap into.”

Skywise is currently offering 28 weekly flights at an initial frequency of two return flights a day – an estimated 15,000 passengers per week.

Pan-African ambitions

Qadir said by end of April, the airline hopes to have increased number of weekly flights to 52, and will also be looking at other routes, such as Port Elizabeth and George.

However, she added that PAK Africa is also in the process of negotiating a merger and acquisition, which will not only introduce new routes domestically, but also regionally.

“I cannot disclose the details of this merger and acquisition but we are negotiating something and it will be [announced] very soon.”

However, she did add that the aim is to grow the airline into a pan-African carrier.

Combating a risky market

The low-cost airline market has proven risky in South Africa, evident by the bankruptcy of 1time, Nationwide Airlines, Interlink, and Velvet Sky over the past few years.

“It is a risky industry, we know that,” said Qadir. “But every business has its own risk… We think that we can be successful because we have a plan – a short term, medium term and long term plan where we want to focus on getting a successful business model as well as keeping our consumers happy.”

She added that Skywise is looking for a sustainable model that focuses on rivalling competitors in the market on customer experience, rather than cutting costs.

“So we are not concentrating too much on price cutting. If we are the same price, we are concentrating on what more we can add to [the customer experience] – freebies like giving them a free coffee, or allowing them to take their check-in baggage. So that is what we are more focused on.”