One of four Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft bought by SA Airlink in a finance deal with Nedbank Capital to transport holidaymakers to upmarket game lodges in Mpumalanga. Picture: SUPPLIED
One of four Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft bought by SA Airlink in a finance deal with Nedbank Capital to transport holidaymakers to upmarket game lodges in Mpumalanga. Picture: SUPPLIED

WELL-HEELED holiday-makers can now fly from almost anywhere in the world straight to luxury lodges in Mpumalanga, allowing SA to compete with destinations in East Africa and Botswana.

This follows the signing of a finance deal between SA Airlink — a feeder airline for South African Airways (SAA) — and Nedbank Capital. The transaction provides for the acquisition of four new Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft to fly passengers to upmarket lodges in the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve.

SA Airlink CEO Roger Foster said on Monday the airline had been involved in building up Skukuza Airport near Kruger National Park, which had created awareness among international travellers of the options when travelling to Sabi Sands.

Skukuza Airport resumed commercial service last year after a break of 13 years. Its reopening had been facilitated by SA Airlink as part of a broader plan to introduce seamless connectivity and convenience for national and international tourists wanting to visit the Kruger National Park area, the airline said.

More than 80% of tourists travelling to the game lodges went by road, said Mr Foster. "We saw we needed to attract more road users into the scheduled flights."

Last month, the airline said it was investigating new market opportunities driven by economic growth, population and business concentration in those areas.

In addition to Johannesburg-Skukuza, SA Airlink had recently added two other "strategic markets" — Johannesburg to Sishen, and Cape Town to Windhoek in Namibia.

The new service to luxury game lodges in Mpumalanga would allow SA to compete in the international market against similar lodges in East Africa and Botswana, Mr Foster said. The service would initially connect visitors from Skukuza and Nelspruit airports directly to Ulusaba, Singita, Arathusa and Londolozi safari lodges.

Through an integrated flight reservations system, travellers would be able to use a single booking platform to arrange flights all the way to the lodges.

SA Airlink’s code-sharing with SAA would enable tourists to travel directly to the lodges from cities such as London and Singapore.

However, the airline said the South African economy was not conducive to growth in air travel which, in turn, had impaired tourism activity. The domestic air travel market had contracted year on year, according to statistics from the Airports Company SA.

Head of aircraft finance at Nedbank Capital James Geldenhuys said air passenger numbers were down but SA Airlink had gone out and found passengers, particularly in the international market.

"With this service in place, it will channel more passengers and get more passengers flying from Johannesburg to Nelspruit." Tourists visiting lodges would also spend on other activities in SA.

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