Zuma: Taxi airline a symbol of liberation
Johannesburg - A new airline launched by the taxi industry is a practical example of economic and social emancipation, President Jacob Zuma said on Friday.
"This is really the people's transport. We applaud the SA National Taxi Council... in giving the country its first fully black-owned airline," he said at the "proof-of-concept" launch at Lanseria airport.
He said while more than 18 million passengers passed through airports around the country each year, the masses did not have access to air travel.
"This is because of the high cost... and to some extent, an unfortunate perception which should be shed, that air travel is the exclusive preserve of a privileged few.
"We must see more Santaco planes in the air... so keep the costs low, increase numbers and get more routes."
Santaco airlines would offer an all-in-one transport system between taxi ranks in different provinces. The first phase of the service is to operate between Lanseria airport, Bhisho and Cape Town.
It is expected to launch commercially at the end of the year.
Transport Minister 'Sbu Ndebele said it was not a pipe dream that people from the Eastern Cape could travel to Johannesburg at an affordable price and within a reasonable time, "instead of spending 10 hours on the road each time they want to visit home".
Said Ndebele: "Some took a swipe... claiming that pilots, whom they assumed would be the taxi drivers, will threaten to stop or make a U-turn mid-air should they discover that the money collected doesn't match the number of people on board."
Ndebele said the launch of Santaco airlines would show people it was possible for a taxi organisation to expand into other means of transport.
The taxi council's vision was to have buy-in from both the taxi industry and citizens, Santaco president Jabulani Mthembu said.
"We have about R25bn to R35bn in the hands of taxi association members... we are looking at ways to attract that money... we want people to buy shares."
Aviation was a tough industry to break into, but Santaco would "travel where everyone else is scared to travel".
He said the low-cost airline was bringing dignity to people whose only experience of aviation had been seeing a plane fly above their rooftops. The main customers would be people without a car and large income. The airline might also cater to people wishing to travel with their goats, as dogs did in a cage.
"We will have finalisation of all the details in a month's time to deal with all the blockages."
Logistics to be worked out would include access to the service for people without credit cards or internet access.
On Friday, the Democratic Alliance welcomed the airline as an affordable option, but cautioned on the operator being used, AirQuarius Air Charters.
"An internal memo from the Civil Aviation Authority and various supporting documents show that AirQuarius was provided with a fraudulent airworthiness inspection document in 2010," DA transport spokesperson Manny de Freitas said.
"The airworthiness inspector whose falsified signature appears on the inspection document was not even aware that the operator was at the airport where the inspection purportedly took place."
He said although the memo was dated September 15 2010, reliable sources had informed him the matter was not resolved.
The operator was not immediately available for comment.