Comair – Inside The British Airways Boeing 737 Franchisee

Comair Limited, founded in 1946, has been operating successfully within southern Africa for over six decades. With an internationally recognized safety record and listed on the JSE, Comair is managed and owned by South Africans.

Comair 737-200
Comair flies under the British Airways livery. Photo: Wikimedia

A British Airways franchise partner

In 1996, Comair joined British Airways as a franchise partner and became known as British Airways Comair, taking on the colors and livery of British Airways International. The British Airways brand brought with it a rich heritage of stylish travel, reputation for service excellence and a wide range of products such as the prestigious Executive Club frequent flyer program.

Comair has taken delivery of one of eight Boeing 737 MAXs. That aircraft has been grounded following the devastating Ethiopian Airlines crash which killed all 157 people on board.

Kulula
Kulula – South Africa’s first LCC. Photo: Bob Adams via Flickr

During 2001, they launched South Africa’s first low-fare airline, Kulula.com. This adventurous brand has, since inception, revolutionized air travel in South Africa, making flying easier and more affordable to customers.

The major difference between Kulula and BA Comair flights is that Kulula has a higher seating density, which results in it having about a 25% lower cost base.

Fleet renewal

In February 2014, Comair announced a new order for eight 737 MAX 8s, which have a list price of $830m. All airlines purchase aircraft at a discount to the listed price, but it’s top secret what Comair’s discount was. This is their first order of the MAX generation of Boeing 737s.

In previous years, the airline has been replacing their MD-80 series and Boeing 737-200s with B737-800s. Comair has still to receive four of the eight B737-800s from their previous order, which are expected to be delivered next year and in 2016. The 737 MAX 8s are expected to be delivered from 2019 to 2021, pending recertification of the type.

The Boeing 737 MAX 8 is 14% more fuel-efficient than the current 737NG series, so it’s a wonderful investment not just in fuel saving, but also in terms of environmental impact, with just 15% of the CO2 emissions of the previous model. The 737 MAX is also considered to be 4% more fuel-efficient than the Airbus A320neo and 16% more fuel-efficient than the A320.

Comair 737 MAX
Comair’s 737 MAX. Photo: Wikimedia

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 addition of CFM’s LEAP-1B engines, which delivers most of the improvement in fuel efficiency.

An anti-competition win

On February 2016 Comair has emerged victorious after a long and complicated case in the South Gauteng High Court was ruled in their favor. The defendant, SAA, was ordered to pay Comair a total of R554m ($39m) plus interest at 15.5% as restitution for engaging in anti-competitive behavior from 1999 until 2005.

Comair
Comair won $39m from SAA. Photo: Wikimedia

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.

Fun fact: Apart from the new Airbus A350, their aircraft are the only ones in the British Airways livery with painted wingtips.

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