State-owned low-cost airline Mango will halt all flights to and from Lanseria International Airport at the end of March 2020.
Mango currently operates Cape Town, Durban and Zanzibar routes from the airport north-west of Johannesburg. It is only accepting bookings until March 31, with no clarity yet on how passengers booked on flights after this date will be “re-accommodated”.
According to Mango’s published flight schedule, it has 21 weekly return flights to Cape Town, 36 to Durban and one to Zanzibar.
Moneyweb understands that Mango will move its entire operation in Johannesburg to OR Tambo International from April.
This comes as parent South African Airways (SAA), currently under business rescue, will cease all domestic flights with the exception of a limited service to Cape Town at the end of February.
SAA’s decision to cease operating on these domestic routes will see Mango, via its codeshare agreement, accommodate inbound passengers from regional and international destinations. The hub strategy pursued by the flag carrier means that all this traffic routes through OR Tambo, where passengers expect onward connections to their final destinations.
If Mango doesn’t operate sufficient flights from OR Tambo onwards to Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, George and East London, SAA will not be able offer those (end) destinations to travellers transiting through OR Tambo.
At the end of 2017, in its delayed 2016 annual report, SAA warned that: “The Cape Town- Johannesburg route, which is the largest connecting point in SAA’s network, experienced significant challenges from local and international operators. Increased capacity deployed by LCCs [low-cost carriers] and additional capacity from international operators eroded demand on the Durban route, which was the best performing domestic route in the previous year. However, since late 2015, significant additional capacity from international markets was diverted to these subsidiary gateways resulting in the bypassing of our main hub, OR Tambo International Airport.”
End-destination challenge for SAA
If SAA cannot offer sufficient frequency to end-destinations in South Africa, travellers will be forced into choosing alternatives, such as British Airways (which offers seamless connecting through its franchise agreement with Comair) and Kulula, which operates certain flights under codeshare with Air France, KLM and Kenya Airways. Right now, travellers only consider these alternatives.
Mango has not responded to requests for comment.
It is not clear to what extent pressure from parent SAA or its business rescue practitioners (BRPs) forced Mango into this move. It is likely that further details will be included in the business rescue plan expected to be published by joint BRPs Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana later this week.
Operationally, Mango has been growing its routes from Lanseria in recent months.
In July, it launched two daily flights to Port Elizabeth and one weekly flight to Zanzibar. The Port Elizabeth route was canned in mid-January, with the airline telling Times Live last month that “unfortunately the predicted demand did not materialise”. It is not clear how well the Zanzibar route is performing.
The SAA Technical aspect
Another factor that may have influenced the decision, albeit likely not a determining one, is the transition away from SAA Technical by Comair.
SAA Technical has a “smaller” operation at Lanseria, like it does in Cape Town and Durban (as opposed to its primary one at OR Tambo) to service customers.
With Comair moving to Lufthansa Technik, it is left with a single customer at Lanseria – Mango.
The move by Mango will affect up to 560 000 passengers over the next 12 months (based on current flight schedules).
This may dent Lanseria’s aspirations, where, under its current expansion plan, capacity will rise to 4.5 million passengers a year from the under three million mark now. Lanseria International Airport CEO Rampa Rammopo told Moneyweb in October that under this plan, it will invest R1 billion to increase capacity. A multi-storey parkade and additional retail space is already open, while expansions to the airside facilities at the airport are underway. As part of this, it has increased the number of gates to seven.
Kulula operates 48 return flights to Cape Town and 36 return flights to Durban each week from Lanseria. FlySafair operates 24 return flights to Cape Town each week from the privately-owned airport.
It is likely that these two airlines will add to their frequencies from Lanseria from April in order to satisfy demand.