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Is BA searching for a new airline partner in South Africa?

After cancelling the arrangement with Comair in August last year, British Airways is scouring the skies for a new partner in sub-Saharan Africa. Who will it be?
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Image by pkozmin from Pixabay

Despite parting ways with Comair, BA isn’t giving up the SA domestic market just yet. They’ve reportedly commenced the search for a new partner to manage sub-Saharan short haul flights.

BA serves huge volumes of passengers from the UK to South Africa, so it makes sense for them to partner with a domestic airline for internal flights. The only question is, which one of South Africa’s domestic carriers will step up to the challenge, if any?

While the SA domestic market struggles to cope with demand, BA is going from strength to strength in Africa. The airline has increased its London-Gatwick routes so that international travellers can now book Cape Town flights three times a week during the summer season.

Could Comair bounce back?

The most obvious question is whether BA would renew its ties with Comair if one of the 21 interested parties bought the airline and re-opened it.
Although Comair owns its jets, these are earmarked to repay creditors, so it’s unlikely they’ll be included in the deal if someone did buy the company. What would be included are Comair’s attractive licenses allowing them to travel some of the area’s most sought-after routes.

If the airline did resurface somehow, or an investor bought the jets, the new owner would have to repaint them to remove all traces of their previous relationship with BA.

Cloete Murray, provisional liquidator to Comair, has commented that BA was seeking a new partner, which implies a reluctance to go the Comair route again. Besides, amid booming demand for domestic and regional flights, BA would be better served teaming up with an existing operator. Their most likely target would be Airlink, CemAir and FlySafair, who lead the market for domestic flights in South Africa.


Airlink has taken the ball and flown with it following Comair’s demise, with new routes and partnerships to grow its business in Africa.

Most recently, the airline has partnered with Federal Airlines to offer cost-effective flights linking key Lowveld airports, Skukuza and Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport with game lodges in the Sabi Sand and northern KZN.

From 1 September this year, Federal Airlines’ shuttle transfer service will incorporate Airlink’s Lodge Link to coordinate flights between Johannesburg, Cape Town, and the Lowveld airports to popular game lodges.

Airlink will also resume flights to Richard’s Bay this September, adding yet another option to its growing offering.

Apart from these novelties, Airlink’s progress in the last few years includes a codeshare agreement with Qatar Airlines, and new route to Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

It’s clear Airlink is forging its own path in African aviation and this well-established brand is unlikely to consider a franchise agreement with BA, although code-sharing might not be off the cards.


Likewise, CemAir has existing codeshare arrangements with a few international airlines already, namely Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, and SAA, as well as all of South Africa’s domestic carriers.

Another well-established brand, CemAir might consider adding another codeshare arrangement to its portfolio but rebranding their fleet under the BA umbrella is unlikely.


FlySafair will offer twice weekly flights between Johannesburg and Bloemfontein from September as part of their push to add ten new routes this year.

These ambitions include flights to Lusaka, Maputo, Victoria Falls, Zanzibar, Seychelles, and Nairobi as well as the addition of five leased Boeing 787–800 aircraft in 2023.

As this low-cost carrier continues its expansion into Africa, it simply wouldn’t make sense to change course now.

Maybe Mango?

Just when a glimmer of light appeared at the end of the tunnel for Mango airlines in the form of a consortium willing to step in and rescue it, the Air Services Licensing Council has suspended all hopes of the orange airplanes return to the skies.

The council has suspended the airline's right to carry out commercial flights until 2024. They made this decision based on the fact that the airline hasn’t sold a ticket in over a year. The call came just days after an unnamed consortium provided proof of funds to resuscitate the airline.

This is bound to put paid to domestic travellers hopes of relief from current flight shortages, as no-one is likely to invest in a grounded air service. Yet, based on Mango’s cat-like ability to survive demise after demise so far, only time will tell.

British Airways in Africa

While nothing concrete has emerged from the speculation and rumours that BA will seek a new partnership, from its recent activities, it’s clear that the airline is still active in the realm of international flight to and from South Africa.

So, while we won’t see any local flights under the British Airways banner soon, there’s no shortage of offerings for international travellers wanting to visit the continent, or for local travellers looking to book Cape Town flights or other domestic travel across South Africa.



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