G. A. Nortje as general manager, Safair Lines (Pty.), Ltd. is organized at Cape Town’s Malan Airport in 1989 as a rebirth of the noted onetime charter operator, Trek Airways, Ltd. Outfitted with a fleet comprising 2 Convair CV-580s and 1 Partenavia P-68B, the reborn pioneer now initiates scheduled passenger and cargo services to Oudtshoom, George, Port Elizabeth, Alexander Bay, Luderitz, and Bloemfontein. A stop at Walvis Bay is added in 1990.
In October 1991, following the deregulation of the nation’s air transport industry, Safair Lines, Ltd. is reformed and renamed Flitestar Airlines at Johannesburg to compete with South African Airways (Pty.), Ltd. (SAA). Flitestar is owned by the financial concerns Rentmeester Investments and Muelkin, plus the giant shipping firm South African Marine Corporation (Pty.), Ltd. (Safmarine). Jan V. Blake is managing director and many of his personnel were once associated with the noted South African international charter carrier, Trek Airways, Ltd. The company organization provides for a holding company under the Trek name; thus, Flitestar can be seen as a continuation of that carrier.
Chairman G. A. MacMillan and Managing Director Blake assemble a fleet comprising 2 chartered Avions de Transport Regional ATR72-210s and 3 Airbus Industrie A320-212s leased from the GPA Group. The domestic challenge to SAA begins almost immediately as Flitestar inaugurates A320-212 services from Johannesburg to Cape Town on October 16. Services from Johannesburg and Cape Town to Durban and Port Elizabeth commence a week later. Flights to Bahrain begin in November and another A320-212 arrives in December.
Destinations served from Johannesburg include Cape Town, Durban, George, Port Elizabeth, Alexander Bay, and Walvis Bay.
In 1992, the 1,000-employee carrier acquires the smaller airlines Air Cape (Pty.), Ltd. and Luxavia (now Luxavia Express, S. A.) and they continue their operations as subsidiaries of Trek Airways Holdings.
It is reported in the Middle East press on April 28 that negotiations have been completed and that Flitestar will commence operations in October from Johannesburg to Bahrain via Mombasa. It will be the South African carrier’s first international route.
Interavia Air Letter reports in its May 22 issue that the company, by May 19, has reached the 57% load factors required to break even. The airline in seven months has successfully captured 20% of the South African domestic market.
Following the positive conclusion of a three-month legal battle with South African Airways (Pty.), Ltd., Flitestar receives a license from the South African National Transport Commission on June 15 to inaugurate services between Johannesburg and Mombasa in September.
G. A. Nortje returns as general manager and his company suffers heavy financial reversals during the remainder of the recession year as SAA pours additional capacity onto its domestic routes to overwhelm the independent. Additionally, pressure on yields and the devaluation of the rand against the U. S. dollar, in which most of Flitestar’s leasing and other costs are paid, ends the previous spring’s hope of profits. As the situation worsens for Flitestar the government does not interfere. The company is unable to launch its new international services and runs up large debts.
Enplanements total 400,000.
In January 1993, Prime Minister De Klerk’s regulators require SAA to cut back capacity on domestic trunk routes by 30% in an effort to save Flitestar. Unhappily for General Manager Nortje and his employees, these measures come too late and the airline is forced to suspend operations in mid-April. Sufficient funding is found and Flitestar is able to resume limited domestic operations on September 1.
In cooperation with Luxair (Societe Luxembourgeoise de Navigation Aerienne, S. A.), the international route to Europe once flown by Trek Airways, Ltd., is reopened. It is operated by the Luxair Boeing 747SP-44 Luxavia Star, which wears the old Trek Airways (Pty.), Ltd. color scheme with small Luxair titles on the forward fuselage.
Services continue apace in early 1994 and, in March, the company receives authority from the Indian government to inaugurate twice-weekly flights from Johannesburg to Bombay and/or Trivandrum. On April 11, Flitestar, in desperate need of support, signs a commercial agreement with South African Airways (Pty.), Ltd. The arrangement puts an end to Flitestar’s attempts to compete head on with SAA on domestic trunk routes. The holding company, Trek Airways, withdraws from the market after the flag carrier provides a multimillion rand payment. Shareholders shut down both Flitestar and Luxavia, S. A. on April 20, thereby bringing South Africa’s experiment with deregulation perilously close to failure.