Cutbacks in government spending has forced privately owned carrier SA Airlink to suspend its air service between Pretoria and Cape Town.

CEO Rodger Foster said on Tuesday that this was not a decision taken lightly, but after almost three years, the route had not developed as the company expected. "To stem losses, we will suspend services from the May 8 2018."

Service on the route from Wonderboom airport to Cape Town began in August 2015 and was focused on Tshwane-based government officials, business and leisure travellers. Until recently, Airlink operated up to four daily return flights on the route.

"Sadly, the route has not become profitable, despite our collaborative best efforts — including significant marketing initiatives by the City of Tshwane to promote the connection. The combination of operational constraints on the size of aircraft that can be used on the route and the poor state of the economy have not helped," said Foster.

"A compounding factor has been government’s understandable and commendable belt-tightening efforts, which include cut-backs in government-related travel."

In February, the Competition Commission prohibited a proposed merger between SA Airlink, the largest regional airline, and Safair, its main competitor. The merger was intended to increase economies of scale and extract synergistic benefits from a tie-up. The companies said they appealed against the commission’s finding at the Competition Tribunal.