Comair plans to use turboprop aircraft in its network from April, initially with one ATR 72 on short-haul international routes from Johannesburg’s Lanseria International Airport.
The new operation, to be launched in partnership with another operator, will see one ATR 72 regional turboprop operating on international routes of 900 km and less, such as Maputo in Mozambique. The partnership and branding of the new regional operation will be formally unveiled over the next several weeks, with Comair hiring another airline to operate the turboprops.
Comair joint CEO Gidon Novick said that Comair aims to emphasise the fact that it will fly from the uncongested Lanseria private airport. “We want to start a regional intra-Africa service from Lanseria, which has an international facility. We see an opportunity to offer very convenient regional flights,” he said. “There are a few regional destinations only 300 to 400 miles from Johannesburg. We see an opportunity to go into these and direct without the hassle of OR Tambo.”
The new route is designed to offer a point-to-point service allowing businesspeople the opportunity to fly from Lanseria to Maputo in the morning and back again in the evening, but connections will also be available from Lanseria to Cape Town.
Comair currently serves six international destinations in southern Africa, including Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, but does not serve Mozambique at the moment. The route between South Africa and Mozambique is becoming increasingly popular. Last year, low cost airline 1Time was granted permission to fly between Johannesburg and Maputo, which until recently was reserved for South African Airways (SAA) and Mozambican national airline LAM. In early January Comair announced it had also obtained air traffic rights to Maputo. At the moment, LAM operates three daily flights between OR Tambo and Maputo while SAA operates two daily flights and 1Time flies there five times a week, according to Innovata.
At the moment Comair has only committed to one ATR 72, which can carry up to 78 passengers, depending on configuration. The ATR 72 sells for between US$14 and US$21 million, depending on variant. More than 400 of the type have been sold since production began in the late 1980s.
Comair sees its new regional fleet and network expanding and is strengthening its partnership with ATR. In September last year Comair announced it would open a R130 million training centre in partnership with ATR. This will include a R25 million full-flight simulator that will enable pilots to train for the ATR 42-300, ATR 42-500, ATR 72-200 and ATR 72-500 aircraft. The simulator will be based at Comair’s Training Centre in Johannesburg and will be ATR’s first in Africa. It is scheduled to become fully operational in April this year.
ATR Vice President for Training & Flight Operations Ivan Lauthier last year said the decision to open the training centre was due to the company’s growing presence on the continent, both in terms of an increased number of operators and aircraft. He said 80 ATR aircraft are being operated by 29 carriers in 20 African countries.
Erik Venter, joint CEO of Comair, said last year, “We are proud to partner ATR in the opening of its African Reference Training Centre (RTC). The investment by ATR will provide a much-needed boost for the development of the airline pilot skill pool in Africa and complements our own training programmes.”
Jean-Pierre Cousserans, ATR Senior Vice President of Customer Services added that, “The African market needs highly-skilled pilots in order to support the phenomenal growth of regional routes across the continent. We will be glad to contribute to this growth by providing high-quality training services to the airlines. Johannesburg, as a major African hub, offers an optimal location for setting up our new training facilities, as it can be easily reached by air from major African cities.”
The Comair Training Centre has been in operation for the last ten years and also houses Boeing 737 simulators for training its own pilots as well as those from other airlines. The revamped centre was officially opened at the beginning of this month.