Kulula.com is South Africa’s leading LCC despite operating just eight routes; capacity to grow almost 30% in 2010

kulula 737-800

Snow in South Africa? Kulula.com’s second 737-800 is here seen at Ostrava in the Czech Republic prior to delivery. The unique, descriptive paint scheme has got quite a bit of attention across the globe’s plane-spotter community.

In August 2001, just before 9/11, British Airways’ South African franchisee Comair set up a low-cost subsidiary named Kulula.com (‘kulula’ being Zulu for ‘easily’). Having started as the first LCC in South Africa, it was soon followed by 1time (which was analysed in anna.aero three months ago) in 2004 and the national carrier South African Airways’ attempt to regain market share by setting up Mango in 2006.

Chart: Kulula.com capacity 2003-2010 - Annual seats offered (millions)

Source: OAG Schedules iNET

By August 2003, Kulula.com had flown its millionth passenger and the airline has only expanded ever since. This year, it offers an entire 29% more seats than in 2009, suggesting that the airline prepares for the increase in travel that will be generated by South Africa hosting the upcoming FIFA World Cup in June and July.

Chart: South African domestic airlines By weekly seat capacity

Source: OAG Schedules iNET for w/c 1 March 2010

In the South African domestic market, Kulula.com ranks second after the dominant national carrier South African Airways. While fellow low-cost carrier 1time is a close follower, South Africa’s third LCC Mango is substantially smaller, just over half the size of Kulula.com.

The airline’s fleet of old 737s (one -200, one -300 and six -400) is in the process of being replaced with modern 737-800s. So far, two have been delivered. Parent Comair has a further eight on order, but it is unclear how many are destined for the Kulula.com fleet and how many will be used for British Airways services.

Eight domestic routes only; no competition at Lanseria airport

Although the airline sells tickets to international destinations in southern Africa, these flights are operated by Comair on behalf of British Airways, while Kulula.com’s own network is entirely domestic. The airline currently operates eight routes involving six airports.

Origin Destination WF* Competitition (WF*)
Johannesburg (JNB) Cape Town (CPT) 39 South African Airways (135), British Airways (70), 1time (45), Mango (32)
Johannesburg Lanseria (HLA) Cape Town (CPT) 37
Johannesburg (JNB) Durban (DUR) 28 South African Airways (110), British Airways (42), 1time (41), Mango (27)
Johannesburg Lanseria (HLA) Durban (DUR) 21
Johannesburg (JNB) George (GRJ) 15 South African Airways (21), 1time (9)
Cape Town (CPT) Durban (DUR) 7 South African Airways (33), 1time (18), British Airways (17), Mango (15)
Cape Town (CPT) Port Elizabeth (PLZ) 7 South African Airways (52), 1time (6)
Durban (DUR) Port Elizabeth (PLZ) 7 South African Airways (39)
Source: Schedules iNET for w/c 1 March 2010
*WF: Weekly frequencies

To complement its operations at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport, Kulula.com also operates two routes out of Lanseria airport, a small airport strategically located between Johannesburg and South Africa’s nearby administrative capital city Pretoria. Services from Lanseria to Cape Town were launched in 2006, followed by flights to Durban the following year. Flights from Lanseria to Port Elizabeth were also launched in 2007, but these were discontinued in 2009.

Because of Kulula.com’s two main routes being split between two Johannesburg airports, the rival 1time offers greater frequencies on these routes out of the main airport OR Tambo. When combining both airports, Kulula.com does, however, reveal itself as the largest low-cost carrier between the city pairs. On routes outside the Johannesburg area, Kulula.com is much less dominant and offers daily flights only.

Kulula.com’s loyalty programme is named Jetsetters, an epithet previously used in the airline’s series of humorous TV ads.


  1. A point on Lanseria Airport. Lanseria started life as a general aviation airport in the ’70’s. I recall attending an airshow there in 1977 when a visiting pilot from Britten-Norman was demonstrating the BN Trislander. Unfortunately, on landing he had forgotten to recalibrate his instruments to take account of the Rand’s altitude….+- 2000m!!!!

    A most interesting proof of the Trislanders ruggedness then ensued when after a low level loop it ploughed into the ground 150m from the crowd…and the pilot walked away.

    Lanseria has since grown into one of the largest General Aviations Airports in the region. Its interest for commercial flights comes from the move of many companies and businesses from the old Johannesburg CBD to the Northen Surburbs around Sandton and the Halfway Housr/ MidRand Business District near the old Kyalami Race Track, halfway between Jo’burg and Pretoria.

    There is therefore a substantial catchment area for business orientated commercial flights from Lanseria.


  2. Kulula are well known for their fun marketing exploits and this one lives up to their high standards. Each part of the aircraft is labelled with humorous captions such as “Loo (or mile-high initiation chamber)” and “Landing gear

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