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How South Africa’s CemAir is Preparing for Rapid Expansion

A CemAir CRJ-200 parked on the ramp. (Photo: CemAir)

CemAir — a South African privately-owned airline —  is looking to expand its operations by expanding its domestic capacity.

The airline is best known for its flights to smaller towns like the popular tourist spot of Plettenberg Bay and the iron ore mining hub of Sishen. However, the carrier is also looking beyond South Africa’s borders for new routes.

The International Air Services Council (IASC) — a council that was only recently reconvened after being vacant for a year and is now dealing with a massive backlog of applications by airlines — has granted CemAir seven weekly frequencies on the Johannesburg-Livingstone, Zambia route and four frequencies on the Johannesburg-Lilongwe, Malawi route.

In addition, CemAir has received additional three frequencies a week between Johannesburg and Accra, Ghana; Nairobi, Kenya; Pointe Noire and Brazzaville in Congo; Libreville, Gabon and Entebbe, Uganda.

Moreover, IASC also granted CemAir two frequencies a week on the Johannesburg-Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Johannesburg-Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo routes, while one will be between Johannesburg and Freetown, Sierra Leone.

CemAir CEO, Miles van der Molen, while speaking to Travel News, said the outcome for a few of the routes applied for was still pending which include Johannesburg to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; Johannesburg to Victoria Falls, and Harare, Zimbabwe.

Airline’s Fleet Expansion

According to Van der Molen, the airline would acquire more aircraft to cope with the need for increased capacity. CemAir had already committed to six 90-seat Bombardier CRJ-900 regional jets, which could be increased to 10 aircraft by the end of next year.

He also noted that, in addition to the regional routes, CemAir would add to its domestic operations. It will increase its Johannesburg-Cape Town, South Africa frequency and will soon start flights from Johannesburg to London.

The carrier had in late last month hinted that it was expecting a post-lockdown upset in South African aviation and had already begun to acquire more aircraft to plug the gap, which would ultimately be left by Comair’s demise.

“That’s where we see a lot of our capacity going moving forward,”  Van der Molen, told Business Insider SA of the airline’s expansion into the rest of Africa.

“We’re continually adding capacity [and] we’re growing quite quickly. Some of that capacity is deployed domestically, but we see that the domestic market, in time, when it fully recovers, will mostly need larger equipment [aircraft] for efficiencies and economies of scale… but the regional routes tend to be thin by nature, and the smaller aircraft we operate are practically the correct gauge for those routes,” Van de Molen added.

Headquartered at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport, CemAir increased its fleet size by more than 20% in the first half of the year. CemAir’s expansion plans were revealed in a government gazette published on Sept. 23.

CemAir’s operations outside of South Africa are currently limited to Luanda, Angola and Lusaka, Zambia. The airline also services Gaborone, Botswana and Maputo, Mozambique through codeshare agreements with other carriers.

It is unclear when these new routes will become operational, with the IASC hearing and deliberation just one step of many in the process of getting passengers in the sky. The longest of these processes is the diplomatic one, whereby governments of the countries where the airline plans to fly, need to approve the route.

Victor Shalton


  • Victor Shalton

    Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, Victor’s love for aviation goes way back to when he was 11-years-old. Living close to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, he developed a love for planes and he even recalls aspiring to be a future airline executive for Kenya Airways. He also has a passion in the arts and loves writing and had his own aviation blog prior to joining AirlineGeeks. He is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration at DeKUT and aspiring to make a career in a more aviation-related course.

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