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Comair : British Airways & Kulula

Comair was the owner of Kulula Airlines and had a licence to fly the British Airways brand in South Africa. They were listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

The major difference between Kulula and BA Comair flights was that Kulula was operated as a low-cost carrier with a higher seating density, which resulted in it having about a 25% lower cost base.

Comair filed for liquidation in 2022 after a lengthy business rescue process. The airline suffered massive losses, in large part due to the travel restrictions that came into effect in 2020 with the covid lockdowns. Both airline brands operated by Comair, Kulula and British Airways Comair, are no longer operational.


  • 2019-12-11: Wrenelle Stander has been appointed as the group CEO for Comair, following her joint-appointment earlier this year with Glen Orsmond. Orsmond has been appointed as the CEO of the Airline Division. The change is effective immediately. Comair believes this will result in better performance by both.

  • 2019-05-23: Comair CEO Erik Venter has resigned and will leave the airline group at the end of June 2019. He has been with the airline for 23 years, 13 as CEO. He spearheaded the diversification strategy which saw Comair invest in an aviation training academy, Food Direction catering services, the SLOW business lounge and many more travel industries. No new appointment has been made as of yet.

  • 2017-02-16: Comair has emerged victorious after a long and complicated case in the South Gauteng High Court was ruled in their favour. The defendent, SAA, was ordered to pay Comair a total of R554m plus interest at 15.5% as restitution for engaging in anti-competitive behaviour from 1999 until 2005. SAA was quick to defend their current leadership, stating that this was yet another legacy issue. SAA has stated that their legal counsel will advise the company on how to proceed.

  • 2016-05-18: Comair's application for an interdict against the Air Services Licensing Council proved successfull and the ASLC won't suspend their licence, giving the airline operational security for the time being.

  • 2016-05-12: Comair remains steadfast in their claims that they are not exceeding the maximum 25% of foreign investment, but had to take urgent meausure yesterday to ensure that they can continue operations. The airline operator reportedly met with the ASCL yesterday to ask for an extention on provindg proof that they meet all requirements, but were once again met with threats of having their licence revoked. As a result, Comair felt the need to obtain an urgent interdict against the ASCL prohibiting them from revoking their licence before the scheduled interdict hearing on the 17th of May 2016. Comair's CEO Erik Venter said that this needed to be done in the interest of their passengers, "[T]o ensure we are able to secure operational certainty for the many thousands of travellers being held to ransom over the potential disruption to their important travel plans." Comair has said that they are confident given a fair opportunity, that they will be able to provide sufficient proof that they do not exceed the 25% international investment cap.

  • 2016-05-10: Comair has had to take urgent measures today to prevent the Air Service Licensing Council.

  • 2016-05-12: Comair remains steadfast in their claims that they are not exceeding the maximum 25% of foreign investment, but had to take urgent meausure yesterday to ensure that they can continue operations. The airline operator reportedly met with the ASCL yesterday to ask for an extention on provindg proof that they meet all requirements, but were once again met with threats of having their licence revoked. As a result, Comair felt the need to obtain an urgent interdict against the ASCL prohibiting them from revoking their licence before the scheduled interdict hearing on the 17th of May 2016. Comair's CEO Erik Venter said that this needed to be done in the interest of their passengers, "[T]o ensure we are able to secure operational certainty for the many thousands of travellers being held to ransom over the potential disruption to their important travel plans." Comair has said that they are confident given a fair opportunity, that they will be able to provide sufficient proof that they do not exceed the 25% international investment cap.

  • 2016-05-10: Comair has had to take urgent measures today to prevent the Air Service Licensing Council (ASLC) from suspending their licence, pending the outcome of a court review in relation to the airline's foreign shareholding. FlySafair has been lodging various complaints over the last three years to have the ASLC investigate Comair's foreign shareholding and voting right which according to the Air Services Licensing Act may not exceed 25%. In March a “look through” construction established that Comair exceeded the allowed 25% and the ASLC gave them until the 11th of May to comply with the act or face suspension. Comair found that suspension proceedings has not started in accordance with the act and wanted the ASLC to confirm this and hold back on suspension pending the legal outcome. As the ASLC has not confirmed this yet the company felt the need for an interdict. Comair managed to prevent FlySafair taking up operations the first time around by pointing out that the airline contravened this act.

  • 2016-04-20: The first Comair flight touched down in St Helena on the 18th of April 2016. The airline confirmed that it was a test flight to determine whether operations at the airport are running smoothly. Comair will announce their launch dates of their scheduled flights soon.

  • 2016-04-14: Speculation is rife after Comair announced yesterday that they have "entered into negotiations to potentially acquire a business, which, if successfully concluded, may have a material effect on the price of the company's securities."

    Earlier this year the Minister of Finance announced in his budget speach that he is looking to find equity partners for state owned airlines like SAA, SA Express and Mango. Many have wagered guesses as to which airline Comair might be interested in, but some have also debunked ideas that it could be Mango. Kirby Gordan of FlySafair noted that it most likely won't be Mango airlines, as Comair would have had to make it public with an application to the Competition Commission. Cemair and FlySafair have both confirmed that they are not for sale and Fly Blue Crane informed TNW that they have no comment on this transaction.

    This leaves the state-owned airlines, SA Airlink and failed airline, Skywise, in play. All of which seem to be somewhat unlikely either due to government interest or unlikeliness to add value to Comair.

    Most guesses lean towards SA Airlink, as their route network would make the most sense for Comair to add to their network and whilst SAA does have minority shares in the airline, it is not state-owned. It is also entirely possible that the company might not be an airline at all, but only time will tell.

  • 2015-06-08: Comair announced yesterday that they have ordered four new Boeing 737-800s, two for each of their carriers. The airlines will take delivery of the new planes between October and November 2016 in a bid to upgrade their fleet. Erik Venter, CEO of Kulula, said that the decision to acquire four new aircraft is indicative of the airline's confidence in the local air travel market. New planes will also lead to big savings in the long run as these planes are more cost effective.

  • 2015-06-08: Hainan Airlines (HNA), one of China's largest carriers, has just bought a 6,2% stake in Comair. There were rumours that HNA were in the process of buying a stake in SAA earlier in the year, but SAA rubbished the rumour by saying that they are not selling off their airline to any other just yet. This is Hainan Airlines' third investment in an African airline. HNA are currently invested in Africa World Airlines in Ghana and Astral Aviation in Kenya.

  • 2015-06-01: Comair's fight against SAA's government bailouts has ended in disappointment. Judge Hans Fabricius read only the last paragraph of his judgement, dismissing Comair's application, and walked out of the chambers. Comair challenged the bailouts because they say it gives SAA a unfair advantage over its competitors and that the bailout does not comply with the law or the Domestic Aviation Transport Policy. Comair now has the option to bring the application to the Constitutional Court or bring their complaints to parliament.

  • 2015-05-14: Erick Venter, CEO of Comair, has said that if the South African courts rule in favour of national carrier SAA, they will be forced to relook Comair's investment in South Africa. Comair has taken SAA to court to contest the legality of the government’s constant bailout of SAA. Mr Venter said that they will not consider pulling out of SA completely, but they will have to reconsider their planned investment in new aircraft, because they cannot rely on government to follow its own policy.

  • 2014-09-11 A three-year wage agreement for all Comair cabin crew staff was agreed on by Comair and Solidarity on Friday. The agreement involves an overall increase of 8% in the first year, and a 7.5% increase in the second and third years. The agreement was reached about a month after the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) under section 150 of the Labour Relations Act approached the parties to resolve the dispute. The wage agreement will be implemented from 1 January 2016. Solidarity represents 210 of the 389 cabin crew members at Comair, which makes them the majority union at Comair.

  • 2014-09-11 Comair has reported a 3% increase in passenger numbers over the previous fiscal year. They achieved this increase despite ACSA reporting that the domestic market had contracted by 4% over the 2013/2014 financial year. The 2014/2015 financial year will be very challenging to Comair as the exchange rate is weakening and fuel prices are increasing. Comair has reported a nett income of R265m, a 16% increase from the previous financial year. Comair reported a 6% decline in average seat occupancy rates year on year.

  • 2014-06-11 Comair has appointed a new Financial Director in Kirsten King. She is taking over from the former FD Yasas Sri-Chandana who has moved to Australia. Kirsten is a qualified Chartered Accountant who joined Comair in 2011.

  • 2014-05-30 Comair has been fined R70 000 for publishing false or misleading statements on the JSE News Service. The Financial Services Board has added R30 000 as service charge to the R70 000 fine. The statement that was released on the 5th of November 2013 by Comair was judged to have had two false or misleading statements in it regarding the dealing of Comair shares by its directors.

  • 2014-04-19 Comair have renewed their agreement with Travelport; so that internet airfares & promotions will be available to Travelport users.

  • 2014-03-20 Comair have announced a new order for 8 B737MAX 8s, which have a list price of USD830m. All airlines purchase aircraft at a discount to the listed price, and it's not clear what Comair's discount was. This is their first order of the New Generation Boeing 737-800s. In previous years the airline has been replacing their MD8Xs series and Boeing 737-200s with B737-800s. Comair have still to receive 4 of the 8 B737-800s from their previous order, which are expected to be delivered next year and in 2016. The B737MAX8's are expected to be delivered from 2019 to 2021. The Boeing 737MAX 8 is 14% more fuel efficient than the current B737NG series, so it's a wonderful investment not just in fuel saving, but also saves the environment 15% of the CO2 emissions. The B737MAX is expected to be 4% more fuel efficient than the Airbus A320neo and 16% more fuel efficient than the A320. You'll be able to identify the B737MAX aircraft from their distinctive forked wingtips (which on their own contribute some 1.5% to the fuel saving). Another major difference from the existing B737-800s which Comair uses is the use of CFM's LEAP-1B engines, which delivers most of the improvement in fuel efficiency.

Forked wingtip of a Boeing 737MAX

  • 2014-02-25 Comair reports that there's a shortage of fuel at Cape Town International Airport. They've been filling their planes up to the brim and airlifting as much fuel as possible from OR Tambo International Airport, but they still had some flights delayed as a result of the fuel shortage.

  • 2014-02-1 Comair declares a profit over the 6 months to 31 Dec 2013 of 34.3c a share that is way higher than it was over the 6 months to 31 Dec 2012 (16.4c per share). No surprises, as 1time stopped flying in November 2012, and there's been far less competition since. This also means our travel prediction number 7 for 2014 is looking good: "Comair is going to report large profits for its financial year ending 30 June 2014".

  • 2014-01-01 Mr Hubert Rene Brody, a chartered accountant, joins the board of Comair as an independent non-executive director.

  • 2013-12-03 From the 15th January 2014 Comair's Finance Director, Mr Yasas Sri-Chandana is resigning to relocate to Australia. "It is with deep regret that I leave Comair in order to relocate to Australia. However, I have confidence that I leave the Company in very strong hands & Comair will continue to grow from strength to strength." said Mr Sri-Chandana. The Chief Executive of Comair, Mr Erik Venter, will act as Finance Director until Comair appoints a new Finance Director.

Kulula aircraft parked at Cape Town airport

  • 2013-11-06 Comair announces the repurchasae of 6.1% of its ordinary shares at R2.90 to R3.00 per share.

  • JSE SENS statements on 2013-11-04 initially said that Ronnie Ntuli (director of Comair) purchased R17m worth of shares and Atul Gupta R68m, but this was later corrected to say that they directors had in fact disposed of their shares. Comair also clarified that it is not aware "of any intention by Mr Gupta to step down from the board."

  • 2013-10-09 Comair press release after the court application against FlySafair and the Air Services Licensing Council: "Johannesburg, 9 October 2013: Yesterday an interim interdict was granted against Safair Operations (Pty) Limited (‘FlySafair’) by the North Gauteng High Court which prohibits FlySafair from selling tickets and starting with its operations. This order* will remain in place until the Air Services Licensing Council's decision, to grant Safair its scheduled licence, has been reviewed by the High Court. The urgent interdict was filed by Comair and Skywise on the basis that FlySafair did not comply with local legislation which stipulates that 75% of its shareholding be held by South Africans and that such persons must have active and effective control of the airline. “As countries protect the ownership of their mineral resources and marine territories, so too is the air space of a country regarded as a national asset. The rights of foreign owned airlines to operate in other countries are regulated by treaties such as the Bilateral Air Service Agreement as well as local legislation (South African Air Services Licensing Act No 115 of 1990) which states that operators should have a majority local shareholding,” says Erik Venter, CEO of Comair. Venter further added that Comair and Skywise, following the granting of the scheduled licence to FlySafair, requested that FlySafair not commence with its operations, pending the review of the Air Services Licensing Council's decision. FlySafair however chose not to comply with this request leaving Comair and Skywise with no option but to bring an application for an interim interdict. “Comair welcomes competition in the South African aviation market, as evidenced by the fact that Comair did not object to the recent Skywise licence application, but strongly believes that our market should not be exposed to exploitation by foreign owned airlines. More importantly, we believe that the economic value of South Africa’s air space and the image and sustainability of our industry should be protected.” Comair offered to honour tickets purchased on FlySafair at face value during the interdict hearing, and this has been granted as one of the conditions of the court order.  Comair will endeavor to take all reasonable steps to accommodate passengers with a FlySafair ticket on the date and at the price specified on the ticket. Comair and FlySafair are currently working on the process whereby Comair will re-accommodate FlySafair ticket holders on its flights. Affected FlySafair customers will be advised as soon as the process has been finalised. The process will also be communicated via various media channels

*The Order states:

    1. The first respondent, Safair Operations (Pty) Limited, is interdicted and restrained, pending the finalisation of the application for review from operating a class S1 air service pursuant to the decision of the second respondent made on 14 August 2013.
    2. The second applicant, Comair Limited, is directed to take all reasonable steps within its power to provide to every person holding a ticket to travel on the first respondent’s proposed class S1 air service, at no additional cost whatsoever to each such person, alternative means of undertaking and completing on the date or dates stated in such ticket, the journey or journeys by air contemplated in such ticket.
    3. For the purpose of paragraph 2 of this order, “reasonable steps” shall include the obligation, at the cost of the second applicant, to charter or otherwise procure the use of and make available as many aircraft as may be necessary to enable each such ticket holder to undertake and complete, on the date or dates stated in such ticket, the journey or journeys by air contemplated in such ticket."
  • 2013-09-13 Comair, together with Skywise Airline founders, launch an application to the South African high court alleging that FlySafair does not meet the 75% requirements for domestic flights.
  • 2013-09-10 Comair reports in their annual results that their net profit per passenger is R45, which they describe as "low". We asked stock analyst Keith McLachlan why Comair's Price Earnings ratio is only 6, and whether this was because the market fears FlySafair eating into Comair's profits - his answer was: "No, the low PE is more due to the lack of market confidence in the industry's sustainable profitability." We also asked another analyst, Simon Brown whether he thought Comair was worth buying and his answer was quite short: "An Airline? Never."

    • The new B737-800s are having a large saving in jet fuel compared to the Boeing 737-400s which they replaced.

    • 1time airline's exit from the industry "helped to restore seat occupancy to prior year levels".

    • The catering business which Comair started in March 2012 has been "very successful" (so sometimes outsourcing isn't the answer)

    • 4 new B737-800s are planned to be delivered in late 2015, with the possibility of further orders post 2018

    • There were diluted Earnings Per Share of 48c, which compares to a share price of R2.80

  • 2013-08-28. Comair raises an objection to FlySafair getting a license to operate flights in South Africa, on the grounds that they allege it does not meet the required 75% South African ownership.

  • 2013-06-11. Directors buy Comair Shares : Two Comair directors buy more shares: Martin Louw bought 6150 shares at R2.75 and Atul Kumar Gupta 5561 shares at R2.90.

  • 2013-06-06. Comair Profit up over 20% : In a trading statement to the JSE, Comair have announced that they estimate their earnings per share in the 9 months to June 2013 to be more than 20% above that of the same period a year before. They cite the causes of the improved profit to be the new planes bought in 2012, their new revenue management & operating system and industry capacity being closer to demand. They also announced that on the 5th June Martin Louw (flight operations director) bought 8500 more shares of Comair at R2.80/share. We tweeted small & mid-cap share analyst, Keith McClachlan, asking whether Comair is now worth buying - here's his reply: "Certainly positive profit momentum; 1time & Velvet Sky left SAA and Comair with pricing power, but for how long? Tough call.."

  • 2013-05-31. Martin Louw buys Comair Shares : Martin Louw buys 8500 shares at R2.80.

  • 2013-05-27. Investec Aviation Finance announces that it will be the financier for the purchase of 4 additional B737-800s for Comair. “Comair has experienced great service from Investec, and it has once again tendered an excellent commercial proposal for arranging the finance on the next four B737-800’s” said Chief Executive of Comair, Erik Venter. “We are pleased to have been mandated again. Our strong relationship with Comair and in depth understanding of our client’s needs gave us a distinct advantage when structuring the initial transaction. We are hopeful for a similarly successful closing as we had on the previous acquisition.” said Melanie Humphries of Investec.

  • 6 May 2013. Martin Louw buys another 1500 Comair shares, at R2.80 each.

  • 25 Apr 2013. Comair's concerns about fastjet- copy of letter.

  • 24 Apr 2013. Martin Moritz, deputy Chairman of Comair, purchases R1.1m of Comair shares.

16 Apr 2013

Martin Louw, the flight operations director of Comair, purchases R23,549 worth of Comair shares.

11 Apr 2013

Underlining his confidence in the future of the airline, Erik Venter, the Chief Executive of Comair, purchases 200,000 shares in Comair at R2.47 per share.

1 Mar 2013

Comair announces that it has applied for rights to fly from Johannesburg to the DRC, Kinshasa or Lubumbashi.

27 Feb 2013

Comair Limited launches legal action against SAA's R5bn guarantee from government: "Comair’s sole objective is to attain a level playing field in the domestic aviation market to ensure that all airlines face the same risks and the same requirements to operate on sound commercial principles. By receiving government bailouts SAA avoids this commercial reality and this negatively impacts on all current and potential airline operators. Comair appreciates last week’s announcement of an SAA turnaround strategy, however has concern that there have already been eight prior plans, and that this one has a 20-year time horizon.  This is unacceptable in an industry where private capital competes with a state-owned enterprise. Comair cannot afford to see this plan unfold over another 20 years.  A 20-year plan would furthermore absolve anyone of ultimate responsibility to deliver the entire plan.” said Erik Venter, head of Comair

17 Oct 2012

The Company Secretary, Derek Henry Borer, is appointed to the board of Comair as an alternate director to Mr RC Sacks.

Oct 2012

"Interviewer: Today is October the fourth 2012, I’m Addison Shonland and today I’m speaking with Mr Eric Venter who is CEO of Comair, an airline based in South Africa. Thank you so much for taking the call Mr Venter and could we start off by, could you perhaps give our listeners a sense of your company Comair, and the airlines it has and the markets it serves.

Eric: Yes, sure, Addison, thank you very much. Ah, Comair, has been in existence for 67 years now and ah, we’ve got the reputation of having 67 consecutive years of operating profits which I don’t know of too many carriers in the industry that have done that. We operate today two different brands, the one being a franchise of British Airways, it’s one of only two franchises remaining. At one stage British Airways was big on its franchising business and they had something like eleven franchises around Europe and ah well mainly Europe.  I think that the reason we have survived is that we’re not on their doorstep. So we still operate a BA franchise, and at the same time we’re operating a low cost franchise as well and ah as you would expect, most people ask, can you operate a low cost and a traditional carrier in one portfolio, in one airline, and we think we’ve got it right so far ah, we’re servicing mainly the domestic market in South Africa, it’s still quite a small market, the population of South Africa is about 45 million people but the flying population is probably only about 2 and a half million people, obviously because of the big income difference in the country. The total number of domestic sectors flown in the market is in the region of about 12 million per annum and we’ve taken about 37% market share. The South Africa domestic industry was only deregulated in 1992 and prior to that the national carrier had exclusive rights to operate in the domestic market. So we got into this competitive environment in 1994 and then we took on the BA franchise in ’96, and we launched our low cost carrier called Kulula, which means easy in Zulu, in 2001. And, over that period we’ve grown to 37% market share.

Interviewer: What did Comair do before deregulation in South Africa? What were they, were they flying kind of inland?

Erik: Prior to deregulation we were in much more exciting industry of flying BC3’s and F27’s and all those real aeroplanes, that needed real pilots, to have the stick and pedal type flying. But we were confined to the very, the smaller routes, we were confined to charter type business, we were actually flying, a lot of the time we were flying the gold from the mining areas up to Johannesburg and it was a very different type of operation, but yes, the deregulation really allowed us to get into the jet, mainstream, aviation of the country.

Interviewer:  I want to come back to the issue you described about having on the one hand what sounds like a certain type of franchise, probably equivalent to what we would understand as being a full service airline, and of course you’ve got the LCC. What kind of management skills does your team need to run two such different brands? Is there any special stuff that goes on, like cross pollination?
Erik: Yes, definitely, I think when we launched our low cost carrier in 2001 there was obviously great panic amongst the staff of the airline that this low cost carrier would result in them losing their jobs and all kinds of other things, but it certainly settled down fairly quickly after that and it really is a single factory producing juice in two different cartons, you know one being a glass bottle and the other being a paper carton, but in the background it’s still the same factory, so we actually run it as a single operation, you know it’s got single HR departments, single finance departments, single commercial departments, even a single marketing department, although we do have two separate heads of marketing for Kulula and BA because the brands are so different and because the customer proposition on the face of it is very different. On the operations side, single operating department, the same pilots. We do have a pool of cabin crew that’s crossed trained but we do also have a portion of cabin crew that are purely Kulula and a portion that are pure BA, so it really is one airline, I think, people say, well how can you operate a low cost carrier in a traditional airline environment but I don’t think we ever really were a traditional carrier, we were always a low cost carrier, even operating as British Airways. Our background and our history has always been a very tight-fisted and efficient type of operation so you know, people say couldn’t you have got lower pilot costs if you had started as a separate company for your low cost operations, but you know, not really, we’ve always been quote efficient in our operations, even as British Airways, so in that regard we’re actually achieving quote good economy scale by running the two airlines, or two brands, under a single airline.

Interviewer: And if I were a British Airways customer, landing in Johannesburg and connecting to one of your flights, how much difference do I notice in the product that I’m exposed to?

Erik: Well, the product on the British Airways in South Africa is supposed to be based on the European product of British Airways, but what we have noticed is that our product is quote often a little bit ahead of that offered in Europe. We still have a rather demanding market here in South Africa, people to a large extent haven’t got used the level of ruthless customer proposition that you see in the likes of a Ryan Air or see in a lot of American carriers. So, they are still fairly spoilt in the South African market and we’ve certainly put a lot of effort into positioning the British Airways brand into South Africa as an absolute premium brand, and so, ja, we’re even a little bit better than what you typically get on a BA flight in Europe.

Interviewer: That’s good. Now,  you’ve mentioned the fact that you’re competing against a state player and that brings to mind the kind of problems that we see in India, with Air India a perennial money loser and driving its private competition crazy. I would imagine in South Africa its sort of a similar situation?

Erik: Very much a similar situation, ah we’ve been facing a rather wild ride with our state carrier continuously being bailed out by the government, the airline industry in 1992 when it was deregulated only contained the one national carrier and since then we’ve actually added another two state funded carriers, one being the launch of a low cost carrier by South African Airways, called Mango, which is a little bit bizarre considering the low cost industry was quite competitive at the time already, so for the state to get involved in the low cost industry was a bit extreme, and they have also launched, or taken over a regional carrier into their state portfolio.  So, yeah, it’s a real challenge, ah, obviously one of the biggest issues we have is there are continually big losses simply by not charging the kind of airfares that are financially viable, and then when it comes to replacing the fleet, they haven’t made any profits to fund their new fleets so they go straight to government to get bailed out to fund the new fleet of aircraft, whereas obviously the private carriers have to make enough profits to pay for their next fleet of aircraft, and it’s really hard to make a profit when you’re fighting against airfares that are not viable in the market in the first place. So, ja, that is our biggest challenge and it’s been a long term challenge and there’s just been another announcement of a 5 billion Rand bail out of South African Airways, that announcement came through two days ago, so it doesn’t look like this is something that’s going to be going away in the near future, and we are going to have to deal with that, it’s certainly going to keep us on our toes.

Interviewer: Are you able to out compete them? I mean in a value proposition.

Erik: I mean in terms of efficiency and in terms of value proposition and in terms to a larger extent of employee culture, I think we’ve managed to out-pace them quite substantially, I mean the fact that we’ve managed to secure a 37% market share over the years, tends to indicate that we must be doing something right. I think the biggest challenge that they really face is that every four years when we face a government election, they face the new shareholder being the latest minister of public enterprises, typically that also comes into the new board of directors, it comes with a new management team, so just no institutional history or knowledge that’s carried through into South African Airways, and consequently the leadership team they will start with one strategy, they’ll get half way through the implementation and it will get replaced with a new leadership team who will start on the next strategy and so they’ve sort of built up layer upon layer of semi implemented strategies, along with the obligations that come with those strategies, and they’ve now just gone through another board shake up, half of the board resigned and walked out because of a impass with the latest minster of public enterprises and so they’ve just appointed a new board once again, which will come in with its new strategy, but over the years, and we’re now looking at, since deregulation only, we’re looking at probably the sixth or the seventh generation of leadership at SAA. There’s a huge pile of legacy issues that have been piling up from generation after generation of leadership. So, they’ve got fleet issues that go back three or four generations, they’ve got employment issues that go back generations, they’ve got components, and spare parts and GDF issues and you know layer upon layer of things that have been initiated and where obligations have been created but they haven’t actually ever fulfilled these strategies because the next team has come in with a new approach. So that really is a big millstone around SAA’s neck, and you know if we look at what is probably the primary cause of the ongoing losses is the fact that they just never have a long enough term of any leadership team to carry them through a strategic process or a cleaning up process of the airline.

Interviewer:  Of course with a bottomless pit bank account you really don’t feel too much pressure to complete anything.

Erik: And I guess also the fact that your probability for staying on four years as a board member or as a management team member is pretty limited so, you know if something is not looking good, well , run out the balance of your four year term and then you’re going to be out of there anyway so it’s not as though you are being held accountable for your term.

Interviewer: Let’s get back to your business, if you look ahead, where are the opportunities and challenges to keep your business growing profitably, let’s start off with route structure. Are you in a position, do you think the government will allow your airline to start flying beyond the borders, further and further?

Erik: Ah, we do have a few routes into Africa already, we’re flying into Zimbabwe, into Zambia, into Namibia, but the challenge here is that most of the African countries have got their own national carriers and their governments are very protective of their national carriers, so all the routes into Africa are usually protected by lateral agreements between governments and so if we want to get onto these routes where South African Airways has typically has grandfather rights, we have to first of all try and get the governments to agree to increase the capacity and then secondly we have to apply to our government to actually obtain that capacity if it has been approved. So, it’s a very lengthy process to get any kind of meaningful frequency into Africa. There are a few countries that have opened up and implemented open skies between countries, but typically in those kind of scenarios, you have a big national carrier on the other end of the route, and you have SAA on this end of the route, so if you come is as a third carrier you’re competing against two quite strong national carriers from the word go and because these markets are actually quite small in size and the national carriers are generally quite protective of keeping their monopolies on these routes, you typically find you’re in for one hell of a price war and the moment you pull off the route you see the prices rocket again to really spectacular levels. So it’s quite a challenge getting into Africa. What’s more of an opportunity at the moment in the short term is the implementation of new ikey systems, we’ve just transferred our entire Kulula business onto a safer platform, and we’ve actually implemented sabre as a enterprise system across the organisation, so not only the commercial suite of sabre modules, but also the operating suite as well, and with the evolution of low cost carriers into this sort of hybrid environment, we obviously now taking all the sort of opportunities that come with the IT functionality and the market forces around pushing us toward a hybrid product. So we’ll be getting into things such as brand affairs, like interline agreements on low cost carriers, which globally a lot of low cost carriers is not a good thing to do, but where we’re sitting at the Southern tip of Africa and where there’re a lot of low cost carriers coming into this market with not a lot of alliance partners, it does give us a unique opportunity to form interline or codeshare alliances with the inbound operators, and ja, there are a lot of other ancillary type opportunities that are now on our doorstep, so there’s good opportunity for revenue growth within our existing operation still and then yes, we’re always looking at African opportunities, we might have to look at some less typical opportunities, for example, partnering with an operator in a foreign country to set up a hub outside of South Africa and then look at getting rights both from South Africa and from the other end of the route and thereby achieving the adequate frequency between South Africa and the other country and at the same time build a network from the other country, but that in itself also has some huge challenges from a political perspective, there’s a lot of political instability in Africa, there are a lot of infrastructure challenges in Africa and then there’s always the issue of corruption and bribery that we need to try and avoid as well, so there’s a challenge to do business here in the Southern tip, but I think there are opportunities to be taken but I think it takes time, it doesn’t happen that quickly down here, and we’ll get there, but it will be a challenging story.

Interviewer:  One last question, it seems that your company is now trying to standardise on the 737-800 MG, um, that aeroplane has an amazing range and has you’ve just described, the idea of perhaps looking at another hub within Africa, you could with that aeroplane, have a one stop service all the way to Europe.

Erik: Yes, um, but really the opportunities of setting up a Central Africa hub for example, would provide that opportunity to then take the next step all the way to Europe as you say. The Southern tip of Africa is really not a good place to be in terms of feeding a broader market, all we can do is fly north. The Central African based carriers have obviously got a much better  opportunity in terms of serving  in all directions and so like you’ve mentioned, if we set something up in Central Africa it does give us that doorway, not only to the rest of Africa but also all the way to Europe.

Interviewer: Could you give me an idea of which part of central Africa you’re looking at?

Erik: Ja, look there’s a lot happening in Africa both around political issues and around safety oversight in airspace. The areas that look the most promising at the moment are the likes of Ghana in West Africa, you know a base like Accra, Nigeria still fairly dicey, there’s a lot of issues there that are really a bit more challenging than what it’s worth, um East Africa is heavily served already by the likes of Ethiopia and Kenyan Airways and then if you go really smack into the middle of Africa like the Democratic Republic of Congo that really is a challenging environment, there’s really very little infrastructure there at all so potentially you know probably going toward the equator, probably a place like Ghana is the best opportunity, but there are some other opportunities just a little further south in Southern Africa like Lusaka, possibly even Malawi, there’s a complete lack of infrastructure in a place like Mozambique, aviation infrastructure or services, even though it’s an incredibly long country and there are almost no roads whatsoever and there is a lot of development taking place there in terms of resource mining, gas, oil etc. so yes, there are opportunities around, so some natural balance in the wrist with some long term reward.

Interviewer: This has been a great interview, thank you for your time.

Erik: No, it’s a pleasure, thank you."

3 Sep 2012

Comair announces that: "A review by management of the financial results for the year ended 30 June 2012, has indicated that earnings per share are likely to be between 1.2 cents and 1.8 cents per share whilst headline earnings per share are expected to be between 3.0 cents and 4.1 cents. Although the results are lower than the prior year, the results represent a significant turnaround in performance from the losses incurred in the first half of the financial year."

31 Aug 2012

Two men have tendered to pay a penalty of R5m each, for manipulating the share price of Comair in March 2010 (& 2 other shares), expressing remorse & embarrassment. Prior to the transactions, the men were employed as portfolio managers at Argon Asset Management, and informed that they needed to improve their investment performance. Here's a list of the Comair trades in March 2010, we can see how the share price was traded up to 300 on 31 March 2010.
Comair insider trading

12 Feb 2012

Pieter van Hoven is appointed Chairman of the Board.

1 Feb 2012

Donald Novick retires as chairman of Comair (after 51 years at the organisation).

31 Jan 2012

Comair has decided to build its own in-house catering facilities in Johannesburg & Cape Town. Erik Venter, sole CEO of Comair, says: "We need to remain creative in the re-engineering of operations, which means keeping a close eye on the way we do business. This prompted re-negotiating with our suppliers and we are confident that we can provide greater variety and the same quality that our customers expect by doing it in-house."

Comair is also growing its Cape Town crew base, to save hotel accommodation costs by 80%. This will see a third of the cabin crew & pilots relocating to Cape Town.

5 Dec 2011

Comair trading statement predicts a loss for the first 4 months of the half-year: "Based on a review of Comair's results for the first four months of the half year to December 2011 ("reporting period") and current trends, it is expected that the Company's headline earnings and earnings per share will show a loss for the reporting period due primarily to significant cost increases including a 70% increase in the fees of Airports Company South Africa, high oil prices and a weakening Rand. As a result of the foregoing, Comair is required to issue a trading statement. Comair cannot at this stage with reasonable certainty quantify the extent of its results for the reporting period within the 20% range required by the JSE Listing Requirements. Comair's balance sheet, however, remains strong and it is well positioned to take advantage of any opportunities that present themselves in the future. A further trading statement for the reporting period will be issued once the Company has more certainty with regard to its results. The forecast financial information on which this trading statement is based has not been reviewed and reported on by Comair's external auditors."

1 Dec 2011

After 5.5 years of serving as joint-CEO with Gidon Novick, Erik Venter is appointed sole Chief Executive of Comair. Novick has resigned from the Comair board and will be pursuing entrepeneurial interests.

"Multiple factors influencing industry, such as the oil price that stays where it is regardless of what is happening, the rand weakening and the market conditions where consumers are under a lot of pressure did force the board to a point where it had to make a call on a single-leadership position". said Gidon Novick

12 Nov 2010

Comair secures U.S. government-backed financing, via the Export-Import Bank of the U.S., for 8 new Boeing 737-800 aircraft. "This provides us with cost-effective financing and increases the attractiveness in the international financing market of funding our fleet acquisition. Ultimately this will ensure that South Africa maintains world class airline services," said Erik Venter, joint-chief executive of Comair.

19 Mar 2010

Comair's headquarters near Johannesburg's O.R. Tambo International Airport is subjected to an armed robbery attempt. No-one is injured.

Oct 2009

Comair appoints Yasas Sri-Chandana as finance director. Sri-Chandana joined the company in February 2009.

9 Oct 2009

Comair's joint-CEO, Gidon Novick, announces its interest in purchasing Durban International Airport, together with an unnamed partner. ACSA is building a new airport at La Mercy and wants to dispose of Durban International Airport.

15 Sep 2009

Mr. R Yasas Sri Chandana is appointed to Comair's Board as the Financial Director.

18 Dec 2008

Comair announce the purchase of res24seven (online accommodation reservations) and MT Beds (online travel platform), thereby extending the Kulula travel business.

11 Feb 2008

In its interim unaudited results, Comair accuses its "state-owned competitors" (Mango and SAA, South African Airways) of "continued unprofitable pricing" (SouthAfrica.TO evidence demonstrates that it is in fact Nationwide Airline which has been at the forefront of low pricing over the last year).

11 Feb 2008

Mr Lloyd Cromwell Griffiths, a British citizen, retires from the board of Comair. Mr Ronald Sibongiseni Ntuli is appointed deputy Chairman of the board of directors.


In its financials to June 2007, Comair highlighted government subsidised travel and the oil price as being the major risk factors the airline industry was facing in South Africa; with secondary concerns being airport congestion and rapidly escalating airport charges.

Jul 2007

Comair appoints South African Airways Technical to maintain its fleet of Boeing aircraft.

20 Jan 2007 launches flights from Johannesburg to Mauritius.

1 Aug 2006

Imperial Air Cargo is formed as a joint venture between Comair (30%) and Safair (70%).

25 Jul 2006

Comair announced an empowerment deal whereby the Thelo empowerment consortium attains 16.1% of Comair's shares.

Jun 2006

Piet van Hoven retires from Comair, after working for 41 years at Comair (including 27 years as Managing Director). Van Hoven continued serving as a director on the board.

Mar 2006

The first Kulula flight from Lanseria as Kulula launches flights from Lanseria to Cape Town.

Jun 2005

Comair's British Airways franchise purchases 3 Boeing 737-300s.

27 May 2005

Kulula airline starts operating flights to the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport (Nelspruit).

1 Feb 2005

Kulula airline introduces flights from Johannesburg to East London and flights from Cape Town to George.

Jan 2005

Kulula airline receives 2 more MD85 aircraft.

1 Nov 2004

Kulula airline launches flights from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth and flights from Durban to Port Elizabeth.

2 Jun 2004

In order to allow aircraft to be serviced, a Boeing 737-200 arrives as a filler (Kulula's 5th plane).

8 Mar 2004

Computicket starts selling flights.

28 Mar 2004

Comair's British Airways franchise starts operating flights from Livingstone to Johannesburg (and the other way round).

2 Feb 2004

Comair's British Airways franchise enters into a codeshare with Iberia Airways to supply domestic flights within South Africa.

29 Jan 2004 launches Kulula beds, a JV with Protea hotels.


From December 2003 to March 2004, replaces its entire fleet with MD82s (one per month).


With financial assistance from Investec, purchases 3 Boeing 737-300s from Qantas Airways.

22 Aug 2003

Kulula introduces flights from Johannesburg to George (and back)

31 Jul 2003

Kulula lists on Galileo (a travel agent flight booking system).

Jul 2003

Kulula airline enters into a JV with Khaya car hire to manage its fleet.

21 May 2003

For the first time in its history, Comair's British Airways franchise flies an all-female crew from Johannesburg to Lusaka and back.

22 Apr 2003

Kulula introduces flights from Johannesburg to Port Elizabeth and flights from Cape Town to Durban.

21 Oct 2002

Comair's British Airways franchise enters into a codeshare with KLM.

19 Aug 2002 launches a joint venture with Imperial car rental (Kulula cars).

1 Aug 2001

A pivotal moment in the South African aviation industry; when the first of South Africa's low-cost carriers, (owned by Comair Limited), was launched with 3 daily return flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Later in 2001, Kulula introduces return flights from Durban to Johannesburg.


Comair British Airways starts sponsoring the Springbok rugby team as their official carrier, arguing that "tough guys need pampering".


Gensec and CNI sell a combined 18.3% of Comair to British Airways Plc.

31 Oct 1999

Flights from Johannesburg to Lusaka (and back) commence.

13 Aug 1999

On Friday the 13th Aug 1999 (aptly!), Sun Air discontinues its flight and other operations, with SAA purchasing its shares.

Jul 1999

British Airways Plc sells Comair 2 Boeing 737-200s.

Jul 1999

Comair directors resign from Sun Air's Board of Directors.

11 Jul 1999

Flights from Cape Town to Durban (and back) commence, meaning Comair is now flying all legs of South Africa's golden triangle (Cape Town-Johannesburg-Durban).


Comair Limited listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange

1 Nov 1997

The flights to Hoedspruit didn't last long, as Comair agrees with SA Express that they fly Comair's routes to Gabarone, Hoedspruit, Manzini, Richards Bay and Skukuza.

1 Sep 1997

With the aim of merging itself with Sun Air, Comair purchases a 25% shareholding in the ill-fated Sun Air (Pty) Limited for R11m (the other owners of Sun Air are the Rethabile Consortium with 55% and Consolidated Network Investments with 25%).

27 Oct 1996

Comair Limited becomes a franchise partner with British Airways, operating as British Airways Comair in the same livery and colours as British Airways flights.


Comair begins operating flights to Hoedspruit.


Comair opens up headquarters in Bonaero Park. and they begin flying to Hoedspruit.


Comair begins flights from Johannesburg to Windhoek.


The Fokker F28 are returned to their manufacturers. 


Two ATR-42's and 2 more Boeing 737s are purchased, and a Boeing 727-200 is leased.


Flights from Johannesburg to Harare begin.


Boeing 737-200 are also used on the Johannesburg - Durban flight route.


By the end of 1992 Comair was flying Fokker aircraft and Boeing 737-200's; operating flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town, Johannesburg to Durban, Richards Bay, Skukuza, Manzini, Gabarone and Harare.


Johannesburg to Cape Town flights begin (with a 737-200).


Flights from Johannesburg to Gabarone begin, the first time a non-government airline is allowed to operate a regular flight service outside South Africa's borders. These flights are in alliance with South African Airways.


Comair introduces a computer-driven flight reservation system.


Flights from Johannesburg to Pietermaritzburg begin. The Johannesburg flights are from OR Tambo Airport (then known as Jan Smuts Airport).

16 Sep 1983

Flights from Johannesburg to Margate begin.


Ethiopian Airlines purchases two of Comair's DC3s.


A training service for cabin staff is started.


Flights between Johannesburg and Richards Bay (two a week) are started (on behalf of South African Airways).


Flights between Durban and Richards Bay (two a day) are started (on behalf of South African Airways).


Charter flights from Johannesburg to Sun City begin.


The fleet of Fokker F27 Friendship aircraft is increased to three, with the purchase of two more F27s from Australia's Ansett Airlines.


Martin Moritz & Dave Novick buy Comair as part of a Management Buy Out, from a listed group called Picardi (Jan Pickard's group).


For the first time cabin services are introduced.


The Fokker F27 Friendship aircraft is used on Johannesburg to Skukuza flights.


Purchased from Australia's Ansett Airlines, Comair's 1st Fokker F27 Friendship aircraft arrives. The plane is a propjet with 44 seats.


Headquarters are moved to Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport (then known as Jan Smuts Airport), from Rand Airport.


In order to to assist in the training of aircraft engineers, a Lockheed Lodestar (purchased in 1953) is donated to the Kempton Park Technical Institute. Later, the Lockheed Lodestar will be moved to Klapperkop's Air Force Museum.


With the takeover of Letaba safaris, Comair Safaris comes into being..


A regular air service is started from Johannesburg to Skukuza (Kruger National Park).


Comair enters the jet era, by concluding a franchise for the Learjet.


With the purchase of a DC3 from Austrian Airlines, Comair now had 4 DC3s in service..


Flying to game reserves in South Africa, Comair Fly-in Safaris are introduced (in partnership with Letaba Safaris).


To add to the DC3 purchased from Canada and the Swissair DC3, a third DC3 is purchased from Alitalia.


Increased demand for flights on the Johannesburg to Welkom and Johannesburg to Phalaborwa routes are covered by the purchase of a Swissair DC3.


Daily flights from Johannesburg to Phalaborwa begin.


Comair purchases a Dakota DC3 from Canada.


Comair purchases two Lockheed Lodestars, allowing for 17 seated passengers.


Two De Havilland Doves are purchased to provide comfort and speed on the Johannesburg - Welkom route.


With the purchase of two aircraft (De Havilland Rapide) from Central African Airways in Salisbury, there are now eight seated passengers on the Johannesburg to Welkom flight route.


Backed by Anglo American, daily flights are launched from Johannesburg (Rand Airport) to Anglo's Welkom Goldfields.


Starts operating regular scheduled flights, with a Cessna 195 single-engined aircraft (carrying 4 passengers and a pilot), from Johannesburg to Durban, stopping at Kroonstad, Odendaalsrust, Bloemfontein, Bethlehem and Ladysmith.


Subsidiaries are created in Natal and Rhodesia.

14 Jul 1946

Commercial Air Services flies its first charter flight from Johannesburg to Durban - the Johannesburg airport used is the Rand Airport in Germiston, and the planes used is a Fairchild UC-78.


With financial assistance from the National Industrial Credit Corporation, 10 Fairchild planes are purchased for one thousands pounds each (the planes were based in Cairo, Egypt)


Commercial Air Services is appointed Cessna distributor in South Africa.

Early on it was agreed that Mike Martin would be Managing Director:Operational, Joe Joubert would be Chief Pilot, Johnny Human would be Director of Planning and Leon Zimmerman would be Managing Director:Commercial.

28 Dec 1943

Commercial Air Services has its first Meeting of Shareholders at the 41 Rissik Street (Johannesburg) offices of auditors Leveton, Boner & Company. Mike Martin chaired the meeting, and the company's Memorandum & Articles of Association were adopted, as well as the earlier Memorandum of Agreement. The company is set up with nominal share capital of eight thousand pounds (4000 A shares and 4000 B shares, with each of the 4 founders being issued 100 B shares and being made a director of the company). Max Geffen is appointed Attorney for the company.

17 Dec 1943

Four South African Air Force pilots (John Daniel Wilhelm "Johnny" Human, Arthur Clement "Joe" Joubert, John Michael Scott "Mike" Martin and Leon Zimmerman) register "Commercial Air Services" (Proprietary) Limited as a company. The date is 40 years to the day after the Wright Brothers first, sustained powered flight.

24 Nov 1943

A memorandum of understanding is entered into between 4 South African Air Force pilots (& veterans of the Egyptian desert war in WWII) - Human, Joubert, Martin and Zimmerman; in which they undertake to each contribute 1500 pounds start-up capital.

Comair's causes

    Comair Kulula, together with ACSA, allows members of the South African Police Service and their family to fly at discounted rates.

    Trying to introduce daylight savings time in South Africa.

    Comair British Airways provides flights to to Johannesburg and Cape Town, for lecturers of CIDA City Campus (South Africa's first free university).

    Anti the state subsidising government-owned airlines (Mango and SAA): "It is our view that the Government should review the effective compliance of its own policy, as documented in a White Paper, which commits it to a reduction in its direct involvement in the provision of air services, the principle of
    equal treatment and the promotion of a level playing field."

    Raise money and awareness for CHOC (Childrens Haematology Oncology Clinics).

Comair-branded car at Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport

Black Economic Empowerment

Comair's BEE partner

In July 2006 a transaction was concluded, whereby 15% of Comair's shares were taken up by an empowerment consortium known as the Thelo Aviation Consortium (Pty) Ltd, which is led by Thelo Aviation Investments (Pty) Ltd. Thelo Aviation Investment (Pty) purchased an additional 1.1% of Comair's shares in cash bringing the total empowerment holding to 16.1%.

Staff composition

On the 30th June 2007, 53% of Comair's staff were black employees, up from 29% on the 30th June 2002, whilst 79% of employees were from designated groups (i.e. blacks, the disabled and females). "We continue to focus our recruitment and training efforts on achieving a demographically representative team", Comair stated in their annual financials.

Imperial Air Cargo

On 1 August 2007 Imperial Air Cargo was formed as a joint venture between Safair (70% owner) and Comair (30% owner), operating domestic cargo flights in South Africa. Imperial Air Cargo operates services to Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. The Chief Operating Officer of Imperial Air Cargo is Muriel Sahd (+27-72 080 1019).

Imperial Air Cargo

Contact details

Comair's head office is at 1 Marignane Drive, Bonaero Park, 1619. Their phone number is 011-921-0111


Comair Limited listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange in 1998, and is a South African controlled company. The following shareholders hold more than 3% of the issued share capital of the company:


    Percentage ownership (30/6/2008)



    BB Investment Company


    Britair Holdings Limited


    Comair Share Incentive Trust


    Alan Gray Equity Fund


    Oasis Crescent Equity Fund




    Other public shareholders




Shareholders in South Africa owned 85% of the issued share capital on 30 June 2008.






    Pieter van Hooven

    South African


    Erik Rudolf Venter

    South African

    Deputy Chairman from 11 Feb 2008

    Ronald Sibongiseni Ntuli

    South African

    Deputy Chairman ?

    Martin Darryl Moritz

    South African


    Pieter van Hoven

    South African


    Alan Kerr Buchanan


    Director: Finance

    Kirsten King

    South Africa

    Director: Special Projects

    Bertrandus Johannes van der Linden


    Director: Flight Operations

    Martin Nicolaas Louw

    South African

    Independent non-executive director

    Peter Johannes Welgemoed

    South African

    Independent non-executive director

    Rodney Cyril Sacks

    South African

    Independent non-executive director

    Khutso Ignatius Mampeule

    South Africa

    Independent non-executive director

    Jacob Meyer Kahn

    South African

    Alternate Director to Mr RC Sacks

    Derek Henry Borer

    South African

¹ After 41 years at Comair (which included 27 years as MD), Piet van Hoven retired from Comair in June 2006, but continued serving as a director on the board.


Looking for a job with Kulula or British Airways? Then navigate over to the Comair jobs page, to ask your questions.

Income streams

Selling airline tickets

Selling airline tickets on and British Airways flights.

On-board catering
Kulula-branded credit card has a VISA credit card which it launched together with First National Bank.

Car rental
Pilot training

Comair has two Boeing 737 flight simulators at its training facilities at Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport. At these facilities Comair trains their own pilots, as well as the pilots of several international airlines.

Gidon Novick, joint CE of Comair explains how realistic Comair's flight simulators are: "I took my 5-year-old son into the flight simulator and flew him around Table Mountain. It’s so realistic, he didn’t understand we didn’t really take off. He later asked my wife: ‘Mommy, how did we get through the wall’?"

Joint venture with Discovery Health

In a joint venture with Discovery Health, Comair offers Discovery's vitality members discounts of between 15% and 30% off Kulula airline flights. Comair plans to extend this concept to car rental.

Maintenance of Aircraft

Comair has its aircraft (both Kulula and BA) maintained by South African Technical (SAT).

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