Airlines eye deals with Airlink as SAA, Comair falter


South Africa’s Airlink is in talks with several foreign airlines seeking to increase their reach in southern Africa at a time when major regional carriers South African Airways and Comair remain grounded, its chief executive told Reuters.

The talks come as southern African airspace reopens following Covid-19 restrictions, which have battered the global travel sector.

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“There are at least three major global airlines among the global top ten who are in discussions with us for an interline agreement,” Foster said, adding that Airlink was also in talks with four African airlines.

An interline agreement is a relationship between airlines which allows one to sell itineraries provided by another that it would not be able to serve on its own.

Foster declined to name the airlines with which his company was in talks. He said code sharing, under which two or more airlines market the same flight under different codes, and interline freight arrangements were also being discussed.

Airlink, which serves 47 destinations in southern Africa, recently signed interline agreements with Middle Eastern majors Qatar Airways and Emirates, and also has similar deals with British Airways, KLM, Air France and United Airlines.

Foster said global airlines are also looking to strike deals with other regional carriers as southern African nations reopen for international tourism and business travel.

Many of those regional routes would normally be operated by SAA and Comair.

SAA had served four local, 18 intra-African and eight intercontinental routes, and had code-sharing agreements with 25 global and regional players.

It has been under a form of bankruptcy protection since December and has yet to restart operations despite the government relaunching air travel to selected countries this month.

Comair, which operates the British Airways franchise in South Africa and budget airline Kulula.com, also served over 10 local and six regional routes.

It has interline and code sharing agreements with Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways, Air France, KLM, Etihad Airways and Kenya Airways.

However it too is under administration, and is unlikely to start operations before next year.

With international carriers now signing agreements with their competitors, SAA and Comair could face an uphill battle when they do eventually relaunch flights.

“It will not be a walk in the park,” Foster said, adding that the void left by the two companies was quickly being filled.

“When SAA and Comair come back, it will be a completely different market, with a different set of competitors (with) global strength,” he said.

An SAA spokesman did not respond to phone calls or an email seeking comment. A Comair spokesman said he would respond later.