Airlink (South Africa) (4Z, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) has set about disentangling itself from bankrupt South African Airways (SA, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) following the replacement of its SAA franchise agreement with what it termed, "a new commercial arrangement".

In a statement issued last week, privately-owned Airlink said that under the revised terms of its partnership with SAA, effective June 11, 2020, it will resume operating flights under its own "4Z" flightcode.

Airlink abandoned the use of its own flightcode in favour of four-digit SA8xxx flight numbers in 1997 when it entered into a strategic alliance with SAA and South African Express (XZ, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo). The partnership gave Airlink access to SAA's reservations and ticketing system and by extension, implicit interline connectivity to any and all airlines with which SAA has an interline agreement.

However, with SAA's future now uncertain given its entry into business rescue last year, Airlink has now set about becoming an independent carrier once more.

"The change marks a new era in the long-standing commercial agreement with SAA," it said in a statement on January 16. "While SAA remains an important strategic pillar in Airlink’s strategy, the new arrangement gives Airlink the freedom to extend its commercial reach, develop more routes and frequencies on an independent basis and extend or establish additional agreements with other leading international airlines."

The ch-aviation fleets advanced module shows Airlink operates eight Jetstream 41s, seventeen E135s, eleven E140s, three E170s, and twelve E190s on a network that spans South Africa as well as Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, St Helena, Mozambique, Uganda, Madagascar, Lesotho, and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland).

In Eswatini, Airlink is a minority shareholder in Eswatini Airlink (formerly Swaziland Airlink), a regional carrier that operated its own aircraft under an Eswatini AOC from 1999 until September 2012. However, owing to the downgrading of the Eswatini Civil Aviation Authority (ESWACAA) in 2012, Eswatini Airlink has relied on its South African parent for the provision of air services in their entirety; it currently uses Airlink's AOC, aircraft, crew, traffic rights, and air services licence to carry out flights on its sole return route - Manzini Matsapha-Johannesburg O.R. Tambo.

However, last week, Joseph Dlamini, the newly appointed General Manager of Eswatini Airlink, told the Swazi Observer newspaper that the airline was now in the process of resecuring its own AOC and operating licence from ESWACAA, a move that would allow it to resume inhouse flight operations.

“We are currently involved in the registration and licensing process and once that process is done, they will know the exact time of launching the local operation of the flights. However, the process is unfortunately not being handled by ourselves as we are dependent on the regulator to issue the relevant licenses for us to be able to start our operations,” he said.

Once completed, Dlamini hinted that Eswatini Airlink may expand beyond its Johannesburg route should market demand allow for it.