An Embraer ERJ-170 passenger jet, operated by Airlink. Picture: WALDO SWIEGERS/BLOOMBERG
An Embraer ERJ-170 passenger jet, operated by Airlink. Picture: WALDO SWIEGERS/BLOOMBERG

With reference to Morgan Phaahla’s letter (“No matter the spin, the wheels are coming off SAA”, November 25) it is not clear whether his concerns over Airlink’s past relationship with SAA apply to SAA or to Airlink. He suggests Airlink used SAA’s booking system to “piggyback off SAA’s Voyager rewards programme”.

Airlink was a member of the Voyager loyalty programme from 1995 and a fully-fledged franchisee of SAA from 1997 until we terminated the franchise relationship earlier in 2020. During this time Airlink remitted “earn” contributions on behalf of our frequent flyer customers to the Voyager programme and received “burn” payments from the programme as Voyager members redeemed their air miles on Airlink flights.

Importantly, Airlink paid its way. The benefit to Airlink of being an SAA franchisee was tangible, and there is no doubt that the symbiotic relationship helped Airlink develop a formidable and comprehensive network of destinations throughout Southern Africa. The value SAA derived from Airlink was that the SAA brand featured prominently throughout Airlink’s expansive network of typically smaller community destinations, on all Airlink flights, at no cost to SAA. In fact, Airlink paid SAA a royalty fee to expand the SAA network.

Both parties enjoyed the benefit of feed and de-feed from the composite, rich, dense, combined network that SAA and Airlink achieved collectively. During December 2019 SAA defaulted on some R500m owing to Airlink, as well as some R3.2bn in prepayments for services to be delivered made by both Airlink and SAA customers, and subsequently stopped operating. Airlink rightfully terminated its suite of agreements.

In the absence of SAA, privately owned Airlink is independently maximising its own comprehensive airline network system, which now comprises over 60 routes throughout Southern Africa, and Airlink has forged new interline commercial relationships with many global airlines for the purposes of affording our customers connectivity in linking Africa with the world, and connecting the world with Africa.  

Rodger Foster
Airlink CEO and MD

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