Airlink's origins are rooted in three small airlines, Magnum Airlines, Border Air and City Air, which merged to form Link Airways in the '80s. Subsequently, Link Airways was liquidated in 1992. After Rodger Foster and Barrie Webb, the two founders, had successfully bid for the business, they named the newly acquired airline 'Airlink'.
When Airlink was first formed, no one within the company could have imagined that the small, fledgling airline would one day grow into the largest independent regional airline in southern Africa, linking passengers to the smaller towns, cities and regional centres than any other local airline.
Airlink’s growth path includes the acquisition of some smaller competitors such as Air Midlands and Metavia. Back in 1992, when it officially commenced operating, the airline’s head count was a meagre 32. Today, Airlink’s staff complement is around 1,000 people. In 1992, only a motley fleet of twin-prop Metroliners and Chieftains was flying the Airlink colours, offering a total capacity of only 25,000 seats per year.
In 1995 Airlink officially launched its new J41 aircraft fleet on 25 March at an August gathering of important guests including Queen Elizabeth II. Today, Airlink boasts a fleet exceeding 30 aircraft, including its flagship fleet of 10 four-engine British Aerospace Avro RJ85s, which accommodate 83 passengers each. The airline currently carries more than one million passengers annually by way of 35,000 flight missions. Airlink is proud to note that, despite fluctuations in the country’s economy, it has shown growth in every single year of its existence.
In 1997 SA Airlink joined South African Airways and South African Express in a powerful strategic alliance which led to the establishment of the leading aviation network in Africa. SAA and its regional partner, Airlink continues their existing partnership. The long term plan for the relationship is to form an alliance, which will allow Airlink to grow in all markets. Airlink will have the opportunity to serve any route domestic and regional which is commercially viable to it.
Airlink is a South African Airways franchisee and a component of a large composite branded airline network system extending throughout Africa. By providing convenient connections with SAA, its Star Alliance Partner airlines and other international carriers, Airlink can offer passengers seamless flights to destinations around the world, and the opportunity to earn voyager miles.
Airlink's success over the past years is fully attributable to the commitment, dedication and enthusiasm of the Airlink staff, the travel trade, and Airlink's suppliers and customers, who have supported Airlink through some tough challenges over the years. "Airlink has been truly fortunate in having stakeholders of the highest calibre, from our support staff on the ground to our flight crews in the air, including our shareholders," says Foster. "In addition, on behalf of Airlink, I would like to offer my sincere thanks to the travel industry for their loyalty and support, and to our millions of valued customers, for helping Airlink grow continuously over the past 21 years to the solid robust airline it has become at our coming of age," concludes Foster.
Airlink has over many years relentlessly pursued an aggressive intra-SADC regional expansion programme, establishing a comprehensive network of strategically important destinations within South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Swaziland, Mozambique, Botswana, Madagascar and Lesotho. In all, Airlink services more than 30 destinations throughout southern Africa, with more routes in the pipeline.
In 1999 Swaziland Airlink was formed as a joint venture company between the Swaziland Government and Airlink to take over operations, from Royal Swazi National Airways Corporation, as the national carrier of Swaziland. Swaziland Airlink, the pride of the kingdom, provides direct and convenient daily return scheduled jet flights from Manzini to Johannesburg. Swaziland Airlink offers seamless interline connections with Airlink, SAA and its partner flights around the world. Qualify for free travel by earning Voyager Miles through flying on Swaziland Airlink.
On 3 April 2000, Airlink officially opens the Kruger Park Gateway Airport in Phalaborwa. Phalaborwa, the true gateway to both game and golf, is the central gate to the world's most famous nature reserve, the Kruger National Park. The airport is situated approx 2 km from the Phalaborwa Gate, providing easy access to the northern camps such as Letaba, Olifants, Mopani, Shingwedzi and Punda Maria as well as many famous private game lodges. Admire the Park by open 4x4 vehicle, or take a safari on the Olifants River amongst hippos, crocodiles and other wildlife. A bush walk offers a close encounter with the habitat of the Parks wildlife.
In January 2006 something new took flight, Airlink - formerly SA Airlink - did not only change its name but corporate identity too, giving you the freedom of flying to the smaller and regional centres and cities throughout Southern Africa. To achieve this essential objective, our new corporate identity programme clearly represents the concept of flight, graphically emphasising the airlines corporate positioning statement, "Freedom of the African Sky". And clearly positions Airlink as being "Proudly South African", with our tail displaying the distinctive national colours of blue, red, green and gold. It also uniquely features the brightly coloured and popular "Sunbird" found flying throughout the African Continent.
Airlink new advertising campaign embraces, the dream of flight that has long captured our imaginations, as children we would extend our arms like wings and run about without a care in the world ... and that's exactly the message we want to communicate to our passengers - spread your wings and fly with Airlink.
Airlink successfully completed the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) and were placed on the IATA Register on 6 February 2008. So you're assured of the highest possible standard of service whenever and wherever you fly Airlink. The airline is continually setting benchmarks in operational safety and reliability through superior standards of professionalism, efficiency and a strong focus on customer service delivery.
In October 2009 Airlink moves into their new head office based in Greenstone Hill Office Park, Modderfontein.
Airlink Cargo a division of SA Airlink (Pty) Ltd is a dedicated cargo ground handling company. It has three trading divisions: the domestic ground handling division which provides cargo services for South African Airlink; the international ground handling division providing services for three airlines; and the specialised clearing and forwarding division for their own airline’s spares shipments.
In December 2011, the Airports Company SA (ACSA) presents four Feather Awards to Airlink in recognition of consistent service excellence at ACSA airports. ACSA presents six Feather Awards to Airlink in recognition of consistent service excellence at ACSA airports in December 2012.
In June 2012, a 32.51% stake of the company changed hands in a landmark broad-based black economic empowerment transaction. The new investor is the Sishen Iron Ore Company Community Development Trust ('SIOC-cdt'), which made the acquisition through its investment arm, Sishen Iron Ore Company Community Development Trust Investment Holdings.
11 June 2013, Airlink celebrates 21 years in the aviation industry. Today, Airlink has a turnover of more than two billion Rand, employs about 1,000 staff, and carries one million-plus customers annually.