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Kulula. Picture: Supplied
Kulula. Picture: Supplied

Warren Buffett once invested in the airline business, a gamble that he apparently said later was "unblemished by success". The Sage of Omaha went on to remark that anyone with business savvy and an eye on the future who was present at Kitty Hawk on the day in 1903 that the Wright brothers gave the world powered flight would have done the future a favour by shooting them down.

There is nothing new in the airline industry’s travails. It is an expensive business with margins thinner than parachute silk, highly sensitive to even mild economic turbulence, let alone the buffeting headwinds of, say, a terror attack in the US or a pandemic.

Still, it’s sad to see a carrier like kulula grounded yet again. Once the upstart darling of the skies, even with its appalling in-flight comedy sketches dished out by cabin crew with not much in the way of comedic timing, kulula circa 2003 gave SA a taste of no-frills aviation that truly democratised air travel and briefly gave even long-distance buses a bit of a scare.

Of course it couldn’t last, not least of all because of the jealous gaze of the taxpayer-funded dodo otherwise known as SAA. kulula’s fares crept up even as it became known for delays "due to rotational issues".

Having survived a series of management ejections, two years of pandemic-related grounding, gruelling business rescue, not to mention the PR fallout of being the only local airline to own the ill-starred Boeing 737 Max 8, kulula and its fellow British Airways franchise look no different right now to those that hit the ground before, starting with FliteStar, through Intensive Air with its elderly Fokkers and ending with the clock running out on 1time, Nationwide and Velvet Sky.

The grounding may be temporary, but, as Buffett knows, the best way to make a million bucks is to take 100-million bucks and (re)start an airline.


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