Over the last three decades, there has been an abundance of South African airlines that have ceased operations. Some veterans have become a thing of the past, while many newcomers have also stopped flying in such a short period of aviation history.
A major shift
In the early 1990s, South Africa’s government went through a notable transformation away from apartheid to one of majority rule. This factor caused a significant shift in business opportunities across the country, which is evident in the aviation market. For instance, fewer than 10 South African airlines launched and closed between the 1920s. However, since 1990, at least 30 carriers have come and gone.
Altogether, there is a clear difference in activity in the last 30 years compared to the period before the transition. The incubation years of the new government proved to be key to this factor. The African National Congress, under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, brought a new climate to the economy.
“There are a lot of directions Mandela could have taken the country in those early post-apartheid days. At each juncture, he seemed to make the right call. When it came to the country’s economic policy, he chose free markets,” Business publication Quartz notes.
“As an activist, Mandela openly called for nationalization of South African companies. Yet as president, he embraced an open economy and courted international investors. As the first leader of post-apartheid South Africa, Mandela miraculously realigned the ANC’s socialist, development state orientation toward trade, investment, and connecting to global capital markets.”
However, just as with many transport markets across the globe, the rise of new competitors created the environment for increased risk, and in turn, collapses. Experienced players such as Trek Airways and Bop Air were the first to cease operations in the new era, doing so in 1994, the same year that Mandela became president. Subsequently, as the 1990s continued, Flitestar, Airink Airline, Phoenix Airways, Avia Airlines, SA Airlink, and Sun Air were all merged, absorbed, or closed in the same decade as launching.
Ultimately, as with many social shakeups, airlines were forced to adapt to the ever-evolving conditions. The operational struggles continued into the new millennium. For example, Alliance Air ran at a loss until ceasing operations in 2000. African Star Airways, Aero Air Charter, Intensive Air, Rossair Executive Air Charter, AirwWorld Air Charter, and Tramon Air all soon followed.
The global economic crisis further created financial challenges for South Africa’s industry. African International Airways, Nationwide Airlines, and Interlink Airlines quickly ceased operations following the recession.
The modern era
Into the 2010s, additional key names, including 1time and Velvet Sky, went into liquidation. There was a period of somewhat stability when it came to closures, but the financial troubles remained.
The struggles are symbolized by the South African Airways saga, which entered voluntary business rescue in December 2019 after years of losses. The airline then suspended operations the following year until restarting just last September. Moreover, fellow state-owned South African Express ceased operations in April 2020.
Nonetheless, being a national entity and a government company has been a saving grace that has helped prevent South African Airways from completely shutting down. In comparison, subsidiary Mango ceased operations in July 2021 and is yet to restart.
The pandemic has undoubtedly given a new wave of difficulties for South Africa’s aviation scene to deal with. Long-term groundings and mass suspensions will likely see additional closures in the next chapter. Recent launches such as FlySafair and Lift Airline will be hoping to change the fate of start-ups in the country.