After having severed ties with troubled South African Airways and launching its own brand last November, Airlink, as it is now called, is the African continent’s second-biggest airline after Ethiopian Airlines. When looking at OAG data cited by airline and airport network planning website, the newly independent airline offers almost 1.2 million seats for sale during summer in the southern hemisphere.

Of those seats, OAG data shows that three-quarters of the availability is for domestic flights within South Africa aboard Airlink’s 92-seat Brazilian-built Embraer 190 aircraft. This makes Airlink, Africa’s third-largest airline by seat numbers after Ethiopian Airlines and Egyptair, rising to second when calculating the number of flights.

Formed in 1992 following the liquidated Link Airways purchase, Airlink joined up with South African Airways and South African Express Airways to form a unique partnership with Airlink operating as a feeder airline for South African Airways.

In late 2009 the South African Civil Aviation Authority grounded Airlink’s fleet of 13 British Aerospace Jetstream 41 aircraft due to safety issues surrounding the planes Honeywell TPE-331-14HR-901H engines. On 3 May 2017, Airlink became the first airline in history to operate a commercial flight to the isolated Atlantic Ocean island of Saint Helena, landing a British Aerospace Avro RJ85 on the island’s newly constructed runway. Before that, Saint Helena’s only link to the outside world was the British Royal Mail Ship RMS St Helena.

In October of the same year, Airlink began a once-weekly service to Saint Helena Airport (HLE) from O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) in Johannesburg. Operating the route with an Embraer E190-100IGW aircraft, the flight took around six hours, including a refueling stop at Walvis Bay International Airport (WVB) in Namibia.

In November 2020, Airlink ceased its partnership with troubled South African Airways and signed codesharing agreements with KLM, Air France, British Airways, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Emirates, and United Airlines.

According to the aviation enthusiast website, Airlink operates a fleet of 46 aircraft made up of the following:

  • 4 x British Aerospace Jetstream 41s
  • 27 x Embraer ERJ-135s
  • 3 x Embraer ERJ-170s
  • 12 x Embraer ERJ-190s

Airlink currently operates 63 routes in southern Africa, with flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town International Airport (CPT) accounting for around one-fifth of Airlink’s capacity. Regarding competition, there is little if any on ita domestic routes except for startup Lift who will operate three leased Airbus A320’s on JNB to CPT and from JNB to George Airport (GRJ) in South Africa’s Western Cape.

Other competition comes from RwandAir, which operates three flights per week between Johannesburg  Kigali International Airport (KGL) in Rwanda. Looking towards the future, Airlink will commence four weekly flights between Johannesburg and Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport (HRE) in Zimbabwe starting January 18, 2021.

When speaking about the new route in a statement from the airline Airlink CEO, Rodger Foster said:

“Airlink is excited to be launching this important new route, which will provide convenience to business and leisure travelers, saving them precious hours transferring via Johannesburg and also limiting their exposure to potential touch-points, which is a key consideration as we adjust our traveling habits during the COVID-19 pandemic. Airlink’s unique service on the route will also support trade, commerce, and tourism between the two cities and their respective markets at a time when it is desperately needed.”

For now, at least Airlink has no real competition until what will be a very different South African Airways starts flying again sometime later this year. Until then and beyond, Airlink’s future looks bright.

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