Airlink (South Africa) (4Z, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) will apply to the Pretoria High Court to review a decision by the South African Department of Transport to award more international route authorities to South African Express (XZ, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) on the grounds that the state-backed carrier lacked the legally mandated provisions to operate them, privately-owned Airlink declared in a statement posted on its Facebook page.

In early October, SA Express announced it had been granted route authorities for services to Zimbabwe (7x weekly from Johannesburg O.R. Tambo), Angola (3x weekly from Johannesburg), and Botswana (7x weekly from Cape Town) by the department's International Air Services Council (IASC), despite Airlink's objections.

Airlink, which is itself a South African Airways franchisee, argued that SA Express did not comply with South African law that requires carriers applying for such licences to be able to demonstrate their “financial capability” and ability “to operate an international air service”. SA Express accused Airlink of objecting because it wanted to remain the sole operator in these markets.

In its statement on November 12, Airlink said that at the request of South Africa's Competition Commission (CC), in the context of an ongoing market investigation it would withdraw its request for an urgent interdict suspending the IASC’s decision.

It stressed that its legal challenge was not aimed at limiting competition but “to ensure the consistent application of the law by the IASC when it considers the fitness and ability of any airline to sustain safe and reliable commercial international air services”.

“In addition to the type of aircraft, the airport to be served, and the frequency of flights, [the law] requires the submission of evidence of 'financial capability' which has ordinarily included: audited financial statements demonstrating 'going concern', current profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and statements of retained earnings, as well as a clear business case,” it said.

Airlink has on a number of occasions noted the fact that SA Express has failed to table its annual financial statements for the last three years. It has also highlighted recent public admissions by Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan that neither SAA nor SA Express could be considered going-concerns given both are loss-making and would likely require additional state funding.

“In this instance, the IASC appears to have made its decision in the absence of any recent set of audited accounts for SA Express and disregarding the Public Enterprises Minister’s (representing SA Express’s shareholder) advice to Parliament in September that the carrier was [...] 'experiencing financial difficulties'.”