Comair invests in new fleet

Sep 9, 2013

SOUTH AFRICA’S’s privately-operated full-service carrier, British Airways (operated by Comair), is making a significant investment in Boeing Next-Generation 737-800, a major part of the aviation group’s fleet upgrade plan. This heralds a new phase for the airline which aims to replace its entire old fleet of six B737-300s and nine B737-400s.

Locally, JSE-listed aviation company, Comair Limited, has an exclusive relationship in sub-Saharan Africa with British Airways under a licence agreement reached in 1996 and proudly flies under the colours and livery of British Airways.

“British Airways Plc has a proud heritage and strong history of more than 80 years in South Africa, of which 17 years have been with Comair. We are excited about our new aircraft and are confident that this investment will help continue to deliver the great value and premium comfort synonymous with the British Airways brand,” says Iain Meaker, Commercial Distribution Executive for Comair.

The fleet upgrade forms part of Comair’s broader medium-to-long term business plan to deliver further efficiencies and product enhancements. “The R3.5-billion investment in its fleet upgrade is fundamental to Comair's business strategy of consistently improving customer service and value, while ensuring a sustainable airline,” says Meaker. 

Comair, which carries 5.1 million passengers a year, embarked on its fleet upgrade in 2012 when it purchased four new Boeing 737-800 Next Generation aircraft for its no-frills airline, kulula.com. The new fleet will be partly financed through equity (15%) as well as loans (85%).

“In its British Airways configuration the 158-seat aircraft will service the popular Johannesburg and Cape Town route. Along with the overall additional capacity, there will be 20 seats to accommodate more of our Club (Business class) customers and 138 seats for our customers in Traveller (Economy class). A second B737-800 is expected to arrive in the first quarter of 2014.”

Meaker says that globally, airlines have experienced pressure on operating costs due to the volatile fuel price and high maintenance costs. “The 737-800’s utilise 18% less fuel per seat than the aircraft we are replacing, thereby saving two million-litres of fuel per aircraft per year for the equivalent total seats. The 17 additional seats further contribute to the improved efficiency. Both are a critical component in managing the impact of high fuel prices,” says Meaker.

He adds that the new Boeing 737-800 aircraft will also require significantly less maintenance than the B737-300 and B737-400s in its existing fleet, allowing for higher utilisation and lower operating costs. All of Comair's pilots have been trained extensively on the new aircraft as Comair  invested in a new Boeing 737-800 flight training simulator in 2011 at a cost of R80 million (South African Rands).

“Comair is committed to providing world-class air travel within southern Africa, and the British Airways fleet upgrade will help to deliver just that. The aim is to make the travel experience more comfortable and convenient for our customers,” concludes Meaker.