SA Express Set To Play Key Role in African Development

 - June 1, 2012, 12:45 AM
SA Express’s regional jet fleet includes five Bombardier CRJ700s.

SA Express, the state-owned domestic and regional South African airline, has signed a deal with the Dube Trade Port economic zone at Durban’s King Shaka International Airport (KSIA) to help promote trade among the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a regional trade bloc.

Based at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International, the airline plans greater movement of passengers and cargo at KSIA after President Jacob Zuma said he wanted the site to become South Africa’s leading logistics hub.

Located close to the city center, Durban International served for 60 years as gateway to South Africa’s third biggest metropolitan area until 2010, when it was replaced by KSIA, situated around 20 miles north, on the eve of the FIFA World Cup.

Work on Dube Trade Port, Dube Cargo Terminal, Dube Trade Zone, Dube City, Dube Agrizone and Dube iConnect concluded at La Mercy’s KSIA site in two years. South Africa’s chronic economic problems have led government officials to seize on new opportunities for job creation.

“Durban has one of South Africa’s largest and busiest ports and is uniquely positioned as the pivotal point for intermodal transport of goods and services, further catalyzing trade growth in the SADC region,” said Lulu Bam, SA Express’s communications manager.

As part of its expansion strategy, the airline’s operational base, including maintenance services, flight operations and cargo services, moved to the Dube Trade Port development last month.

In March President Zuma opened Dube Trade Port, named after first ANC president John Langalibalele Dube, as part of a “seamless infrastructure development program over at least 20 to 30 years” to provide jobs and link local producers to global markets.

SA Express Routes

Fully state owned by the Department of Public Enterprise, which also wholly owns flag carrier South African Airways (SAA), SA Express launched operations in 1994 and now serves 11 domestic and five international destinations, including Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and two locations in Namibia.

In March the airline won rights to operate six frequencies between Durban and Lusaka, Zambia, and planned to open them this month, said Bam. Soon, the airline plans to serve Harare, Zimbabwe, and Lagos, Nigeria.

SA Express’s Bombardier fleet now consists of five CRJ700s, 10 CRJ200s and nine Q400 turboprops. SA Express recently sold nine Dash 8-300s, the last two of which it expected to deliver by the end of last month. When it finishes its fleet renewal, the airline will operate only Q400s and a new fleet of Embraer E175s it plans to add “over the next three or four years,” said Ramon Vahed, general manager of technical, aircraft maintenance and engineering and fleet services. Of the nine Q400s, SA Express acquired seven from Flybe, the UK-based regional airline, via long-term operating leases.

SA Express plans to restate its 2011 financial statements after the company’s board ordered a forensic audit in February after a tip came in from SA Express’s ethics hot-line in September.

“The board believes that there has been no attempt to defraud the company, as the issues which have been thoroughly investigated arose as a result of errors made in accounting entries over a period of time,” the company said in a written statement. “The company has embarked on a program of rigorous cost-saving measures aimed at returning the company to sustainable profitability from 2013.”

After 10 years in South African aviation as a consultant and with SAA, Inati Ntshanga took the position of chief executive of SA Express in September 2010. British citizen Lillian Boyle serves as board chair.

In April, local press reported that Dubai’s Emirates airline plans a 90-percent increase in cargo shipments into and out of Durban, perhaps reflecting a potential growth segment for other carriers as well.

“A number of companies from retail, FMCG [fast moving consumer goods] and automotive industries are gearing to export products from Durban port, providing opportunities for SA Express to take advantage of freight opportunities into the region,” said Bam.