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By : Report by Businessday

7 November 2012

BARELY a week after its maiden flight, Fresh Air, the Zimbabwean low-cost airline run by South Africa’s embattled 1time and Zimbabwe’s Nu Aero, is facing an uncertain future following 1time’s application for provisional liquidation.

1time has downplayed the application for provisional liquidation, raising hopes the airline could still be saved.

The airline’s marketing manager Refilwe Masemola said they would give a “full update” this week regarding the suspended services.
Analysts have blamed the airline’s woes on high fuel, operational, and fleet-maintenance costs.

The joint venture would have seen 1time and Nu Aero join forces to offer low-cost flights between Johannesburg and Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. The two companies had partnered to capitalise on the expected bumper festive-season tourism activity.

Fresh Air took to the skies on November 2, with its first flight departing OR Tambo International Airport en route to Victoria Falls Airport. 1time was supposed to provide aircraft for use on the routes.

However, industry sources said Nu Aero could still find another partner and continue with operations, although it could be difficult to “rope in a partner which will offer aeroplanes” in a short space of time.

Analyst Johannes Kwangwari told Business Day on Monday Nu Aero could find the going tough without the strategic help of 1Time, which nonetheless already faced difficulties at the time that the deal was announced.

“It’s not certain if the flights will continue because 1time was a strategic and key partner,” Kwangwari said.

1time would not have had to apply for provisional liquidation if a prospective buyer, which had been in talks with the airline on Friday, had gone ahead and invested.

Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs director Gary Oertel said once an application for provisional liquidation was made, the court would grant a provisional order with a return date.

“This is a later date where the court will decide whether to put the company into final liquidation or discharge the provisional order,” Oertel said.

He said the return date was to afford “any interested party” an opportunity to “show cause” why the company should not be placed into final liquidation.

With the company now facing liquidation realities, the jobs of more than 500 workers were on the line.

There are 1 100 people employed between 1time and aircraft-
maintenance organisation Jetworx.

Masemola emphasised “only the airline has been liquidated” and only 580 of the 1 100 employees would be affected.

1time’s commercial airline licence will stay valid until final liquidation, which means in the meantime, 1time can still be sold.

“The best scenario would be if a suitable buyer could be found for 1time while it is under provisional liquidation. That will also be the best outcome for the employees, as many of their contracts could be transferred to the new owner,” trade union Solidarity spokeswoman Moira-Marie Kloppers said.

Employees were not the only ones affected.

Thousands of 1time’s passengers were left stranded last Friday.
Low-cost carrier Mango spokesman Hein Kaiser said the airline was busy working on stepping up its capacity over the Christmas period to make up for 1time’s exit from the industry.

Comair spokeswoman Susan van der Ryst said they were “assessing the situation” in terms of increasing capacity over the festive season.
“Factors such as available equipment and resources need to be considered,” Van der Ryst said.

But she said no additional flights had been added to the current schedule. Car-hire company Avis said: “(We) would like to confirm that all reservations made through 1time will be honoured.”