The flights were under a joint-venture partnership between South Africa's troubled 1time and Zimbabwean aviation company Nu Aero.
1time eventually folded following a period of trying financial problems. The company filed for provisional liquidation last Friday, a move that left travellers stranded, although some analysts said the company would have been saved if the problems had been identified earlier.
The airline's beleaguered financial position has now thrown Fresh Air – Zimbabwe's first budget airline – into disarray because Nu Aero is stranded until it can secure aircraft for the flights. Fresh Air had traffic rights for three weekly flights between OR Tambo and Victoria Falls Airport in Zimbabwe using 1time aircraft.
An executive at Fresh Air told the Mail & Guardian this week that its management was unsure whether the budget airline – which launched its flights last Friday – would continue.
"The liquidation has come as a shock. We got the news soon after landing at Victoria Falls Airport on Friday. We are now uncertain of the future, although we have the option of finding another partner," said the executive.
On its maiden flight last week, Fresh Air "had 102 passengers when we landed and returned with 126 passengers", according to Fresh Air's commercial director, Matipedza Karashe.
"We [committed all our resources] and had received all the necessary regulatory approval for our flights, so this is really a setback," Karashe said.
Informed sources said Fresh Air would have to find another technical partner to bring in aircraft, although they doubted that this would happen in the near future. One of the sources said Fresh Air had a contingency plan following the emergence of financial problems at 1Time in the past few months.
He said, although Fresh Air's flights would have to be temporarily grounded, flights linking Johannesburg and Victoria Falls could resume next month – in time to capitalise on tourism traffic during the festive season.
"There is a contingency plan and I think by next month flights will have resumed. The company just cannot lose out on the Christmas period activity, because it is the industry's peak period, especially for the Victoria Falls route," Karashe said.
Zimbabwe's aviation sector has been bogged down by the continued problems experienced by state-run flag carrier Air Zimbabwe.
The airline has said, however, that it would resume domestic and regional flights to South Africa this month.
Last week, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines resumed flights to Zimbabwe after a 13-year absence, becoming the second major airline after Emirates to return to the country. SAA has also entrenched its authority on the lucrative Harare-Johannesburg route.
Erik Venter, chief executive of Comair, said in a recent statement that about 10 out of 11 airlines that had started operations in South Africa had folded since the aviation industry was opened up in 1991.
"Due to the less efficient fleet it operated, the ultimate closure of 1time was inevitable," Venter stated. He also said that 1time would have "made an adequate profit" and would have managed to sustain its operations in "the long term".