By Barbara Hollands
SIX months after its high-profile inaugural flight from Johannesburg to Bhisho, South Africa’s first taxi-operated airline is yet to sprout wings.
The low-budget airline, which is to be operated by the national taxi association Santaco, is still in the process of buying aircraft and acquiring the necessary approvals from the Transport Department and civil aviation authorities. The sale of shares to association members is also moving at a snail’s pace.
But the good news is that once the service does become operational, goats will be welcome on board, as will cats and dogs.
South Africa’s aviation industry is already under strain due to high fuel prices and competition from government-backed national airline SAA, while cash-strapped Velvet Sky airline has recently cancelled all its flights and laid off staff.
Nevertheless, Santaco spokesman Thabisho Molelekwa said the taxi organisation was “very positive” about its plan to start a low-cost service. Molelekwa said it had aimed to fund its operations in part by selling R40-million worth of shares at R1 per share to Santaco members, but this was “going a bit slow”.
“We want to make members equity owners because we are involved in BBEE, but it’s been a bit slow because this is a new venture for taxi operators. But we’ve been educating members that there is value in investing in this business.”
As for the aircraft, crew and other basics required to run such an operation, Santaco is still negotiating to buy a local airline. “When we buy it we will be using all its resources – crew, pilots, hangars, everything,” he said. He hoped the first flight would take off by June.
“Yes, we were supposed to start in November last year, but we had underestimated the stringent and complex requirements prescribed,” he said.
Molelekwa confirmed goats would be allowed to accompany passengers on board the airborne taxi service.
He said cats and dogs would also be permitted: “Santaco is not only about ferrying people.”
This is a shortened version of an article that first appeared in the print edition of Weekend Post on Saturday March 24, 2012.