Neels Blom Columnist
Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Independent airline companies SA Airlink and Safair are planning a merger in which Airlink will acquire Safair.

The companies said in a joint statement on Monday that they will file an application at the Competition Commission for approval to merge under the umbrella of the Airlink group of companies.

Safair operates a passenger and cargo service, and has a large share of the humanitarian-relief market in Africa. It has provided specialised aviation services since its inception in 1965. In 2013, it launched the regional low-cost carrier FlySafair in competition with, among others, the 100% SAA-owned Mango Airlines.

Airlink is the largest independent regional airline in southern Africa and operates a feeder network linking smaller towns and regional centres in SA in a strategic alliance with SAA. It transports about 1.4-million passengers a year.

The Sishen Iron Ore Company Community Development Trust owns about 32.5% following an empowerment deal made in 2012. Its other shareholders include Coronation Capital,

SA Airlink Investments CEO Rodger Foster, Barrie Webb and SAA (2.96%).

The merging entities say they intend operating Airlink and FlySafair airlines and Safair’s other businesses separately under their own brands, retaining their respective products, fleets and management.

Neither entity envisages any job losses as a result of the merger.

Foster said the acquisition made good business sense.

"It presents opportunities to reduce our combined costs, position ourselves for growth while at the same time increasing connectivity and choice while making air travel accessible and affordable for our customers across Southern Africa.

"Our combined networks will enable us to connect 37 destinations in nine Southern African and Indian Ocean countries and (the island of) St Helena," he said.

Safair CEO Elmar Conradie, who will retain his role, said the merger will create economies of scale through cost sharing and optimising assets. "This will position the new Airlink Group for future growth."

The merger will not affect Airlink’s franchise arrangement with SAA, according to the joint statement.

Under the merger, Safair shareholder ASL Aviation Holdings will become a minority shareholder of the Airlink Group of companies. ASL Aviation Holdings is a global aviation group with six European and two Asian airlines in addition to its South African interests.

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