It’s reported that 18 million passengers pass through South Africa’s airports each year. While it’s a huge number, air travel remains the preserve of the (relatively) wealthy passenger. Many millions of South Africans, part of the migratory labour system, still travel tremendous distances by road or rail to visit family, a trek made all the more difficult by the short amount of time available to them. It’s in this context that Santaco Airlines’ ‘air taxi’ business idea was born.

What is the Air Taxi?

Colloquially referred to as the ‘air taxi’, Santaco Airlines is owned by the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco), aka the Minibus Taxi Association. With over 180 000 registered beneficiaries of the Santaco Trust having a stake in the airline, it’s one of the largest Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) organisations in the country. Santaco’s vision is to create and manage an ultra low-cost airline which makes airline travel affordable and accessible to the masses. In September, Santaco Airlines made its inaugural flight from Lanseria to Bhisho airports, amid much press fanfare. President Jacob Zuma hailed the revolutionary business idea as ‘the people’s transport’.

How Does the Air Taxi Work?

Santaco’s business model is an interesting one. Santaco Airlines is to focus on regional airports, where the majority of their target market is to be found. Initially, the aptly named Santaco Express will operate between Lanseria, Bhisho and Cape Town. Tickets are to be sold at supermarkets and taxi ranks and the fare will include a road taxi service, to ferry passengers to and from the airport.

With the minibus taxi industry not having the best of reputations, concerns have been raised as to the aircraft and crew which the Santaco Express will utilise. In fact, Santaco has outsourced air operations to Lanseria-based Air Aquarius Aviation. Air Aquarius is to lease Santaco aircraft and provide crew and the necessary aviation licences, with plans to hand over full operation to Santaco, in time. However, two major airlines, as yet unnamed, are also said to be in negotiations with Santaco, to negotiate a possible alliance. Time will tell if this potentially great business idea flies.

For more inspiration…

Check out these ultra-low cost carriers (ULCCs):

  • Boliviana de Aviacion – Bolivia’s state-run airline is ‘democratising the skies’
  • Spirit Airlines – America’s leading ULCC
  • VivaAerobus – Mexican ULCC, servicing the domestic market and international flights to select US cities.
Air Taxi
Image courtesy of Activate Online