S.African taxi industry launch budget airline

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South Africa's mini-bus industry, known for violent turf wars, on Friday launched a budget airline targeting smaller cities in remote areas.

"This airline would provide a unique travelling experience for our people, whom some of them have never been on an airplane," said Jabulani Mthembu, president of the South African National Taxi Council (Santaco).

Santaco represents the nation's taxi operators, who collectively transport millions of South Africans every day in often battered 15-seat mini-buses that stop wherever they please.

Disputes over routes and fares frequently turn violent with clashes at the ranks, but the industry is trying to clean up its image and become a formal business.

Taxi bosses have raised 100 million rands ($13.5 million) for the venture, mainly from Santaco's membership.

Santaco Airline is part of that shift. The new carrier plans to fly from Lanseria Airport, north of Johannesburg to Bhisho, in the Eastern Cape.

"This is our first route, we also plan to expand to other underserved routes like Mthatha, also in the Eastern Cape" said Mthembu.

Santaco will partner with Star Cargo, a charter company already operating at Johannesburg's main OR Tambo International Airport, which would provide aircrafts, crew and aviation licences.

Mthembu acknowledged that aviation is a tough industry that required expertise and experience to survive.

"That is why we have partnered with a company which has the required skills and expertise in this field. We are not in this alone," said Mthembu, addressing concerns that the industry's lack of expertise would make it a failure.

Mthembu said taxis would provide a shuttle service to the airports to ensure easy access.

"This airline is going to change the way people look at this mode of transport. For a long time flying has always been associated with the well-to-do," President Jacob Zuma said at the event.

"By launching this airline, the taxi industry has allowed itself to participate fully in the broader economy of this country," said Zuma.

Santaco has not yet announced dates for its first flights.

© 2011 AFP

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