Embattled regional airline South African Airlink (Airlink) has cancelled three routes an are evaluating four more as part of a “network consolidation” and has leased four Embraer ERJ 135 jets (pictured) to offset the continued grounding of the majority of its BAE Systems Jetstream 41 (J41) turboprop fleet.
Airlink says it has now discontinued its routes Port Elizabeth-Bloemfontein, Bloemfontein-George and Johannesburg-Mala-Mala. The company suspended the routes in December when the SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) withdrew the airworthiness certificates of the J41 following a series of incidents and accidents.
Passengers who already have tickets will be re-routed, or the company will refund them, Airlink said in a statement.
Airlink’s Durban-George, Port Elizabeth-East London, Nelspruit-Livingston and Cape Town-Upington routes were also under evaluation.
“The simplification of Airlink’s business results in network consolidation, fleet reduction, and fewer departures,” said the company.
The first of its fleet of 13 J41 aircraft was re-certified as airworthy and released back into service on Friday. The other Jetstream aircraft are still to be inspected. The airline’s 14th J41 was lost in an accident in September – the first of a spate that led to their grounding.
“The travelling public should take comfort in the knowledge that Airlink’s Jetstreams will only return to service with their airworthiness confirmed as a consequence of the thorough SACAA inspection process,” Airlink said.
The company is also looking at various “business-sustaining scenarios and contingencies”,the statement added.
It also announced the leasing of four ERJ135LR regional jets, saying these should be in service by the end of this month. Airlink already operates five of the type as well as four BAE Systems BAE 146-200 jets and three BAE Systems AVRO RJ85 aircraft.
Airlink’s ERJ 135 jets are configured in a 37-seat layout. The new hires will be based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and deployed on regional routes that are expected to be increasingly busy, as the soccer World Cup event gets underway in June, a joint Airlink ECC Leasing press statement says.
“We are very pleased to increase our fleet of ERJ 135 jets to meet the growing demand of our domestic and intra-regional markets,” said Rodger Foster, CEO of South African Airlink. “These regional jets will replace our oldest turboprops, improving reliability and quality of service. Travel time will be reduced, while providing a more comfortable cabin for our passengers. This is an opportune time for introducing larger and more efficient aircraft. Furthermore, we see clear benefits in dealing directly with the manufacturer, Embraer, through ECC.”
Speaking to the SA Press Association, Foster said “I will not give up. The events of the past three weeks have only forced us to speed up the process of rebuilding and revamping, which would otherwise have taken place only far into the future.
“We still have a long way to go to restore passengers’ faith in Airlink. I can, however, give the assurance that the CAA will not release a single plane if it isn’t 100% safe.”