• The new generation Boeing 737-800 with attached winglets. Picture: SUPPLIED

  • A British Airways Boeing 737-800. Picture: SUPPLIED

  • Comair CEO Erik Venter, left, and Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom prepare to board the new British Airways 737-800. Picture: SUPPLIED

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COMPETITION between airlines "to get the next passenger" would drive down ticket prices and adjust air fares for the decrease in the oil price, Comair CEO Erik Venter said on Monday.

JSE-listed Comair operates the British Airways franchise in SA and runs low-cost carrier kulula.com.

Mr Venter said ticket prices in SA had already decreased over the past 18 months, due to competition between airlines, "regardless of whether there were three or four airlines".

Mr Venter was briefing the media and investors on Comair’s acquisition of its seventh new-generation Boeing 737-800 aircraft, which arrived last week. The briefing was also attended by Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom.

Comair’s kulula.com competes with low-cost airlines FlySafair and Mango. A fourth budget carrier, Skywise, was grounded at the end of last year for failing to pay airport fees.

The new $47m aircraft will reduce fuel consumption per passenger by 25% as a result of its efficient engines, dual wingtips and an increased number of seats.

The airline has 26 aircraft in its fleet.

"There is always competition, whether there are three or four low-cost carriers, everybody is trying to compete for that next passenger," said Mr Venter.

"Definitely, as the oil price has come down, ticket prices have been coming down. There will always be that competition between airlines that will drive the competitiveness of air fares and tend to bring air fares as low as possible."

The new aircraft is expected to fly mostly domestic routes but will also service British Airways’ once-a-week flight to the island of St Helena in the south Atlantic.

Test flights to the island’s new airport have been completed, but a date for the start of commercial flights has not yet been set.

Mr Venter said Comair was still waiting for certification of the airport in St Helena for ticket sales to begin.

Mr Hanekom said St Helena had a population of only 4,000 and Comair’s service would result in increased tourism for the island and for SA.

He said SA could look forward to a good year for foreign tourism due to a favourable exchange rate and improved visa facilitation.

Last year an inter-ministerial committee considered the concerns of stakeholders, particularly the tourism sector, regarding contested new immigration regulations. The committee recommended that the Department of Home Affairs make compromises.

That followed an uproar over the damage to the tourism industry and the economy wrought by the requirements, which came into effect in June.

The new visa regime, which critics had described as onerous, required prospective visitors to have their biometric data captured at a visa centre and parents travelling with minors to possess a certified unabridged birth certificate, as well as a letter of consent in cases where a child was travelling with only one parent or a relative.

Mr Hanekom said travellers from countries requiring visas would no longer have to appear in person for visa applications, but would be able to lodge their visa applications with accredited travel agents.

The minister said a list of accredited travel agents had been compiled for China, the largest source market affected by this change. Similar lists were being put together for India and Nigeria, which were also critical source markets.

Mr Hanekom highlighted the fact that Home Affairs was looking at visa exemptions for travellers from fellow Brics nations Russia, India and China. Brazilians already enjoy visa-free entry into the country.

The department was also considering visa-free entry for travellers from Brics countries who already had visas for the UK, US and Canada, he said.