South African Airways (SAA), the national airline of South Africa, has announced its plans to reintroduce the Airbus A350-900 into its fleet in the short and medium term.
According to the acting commercial director of SAA, Tebogo Tsimane, the return of the A350 is part of the airline’s plan to “resume most of the long-haul routes it provided before the Covid-19 pandemic.”
From October 2019 to August 2020, SAA leased four A350-900s from Hainan Airlines and Air Mauritius, which were configured to accommodate 30 passengers in Business class and 309 in Economy or in 28+298 (339 or 326 seats in total). Their first flights were from its Johannesburg-OR Tambo base to New York Airport-JFK, then to Frankfurt Airport. They have since been returned to their owners.
SAA plans to use the A350s for long-haul routes, with the targeted destinations being New York-JFK, Washington-Dulles, London-Heathrow, and Frankfurt in a second phase. The airline is also planning to relaunch routes to Sao Paulo-Guarulhos and Perth by the end of March 2023 using its A330-300 leased from Aero Capital Solutions. SAA’s acting commercial director, Tebogo Tsimane, explained that “the routes we have chosen for this year are the ones that will be the easiest and fastest to set up. They don’t require the kind of investment that will take us a long time.”
SAA’s Future Plans
SAA has been in the red since 2011, on a drip for years, and subject to endless political intervention. The company had launched a rescue plan and was privatized for around 3 euros to the Takatso consortium in May 2022. The process is still not finalized, but SAA has exited from the “rescue process.”
At the moment, SAA has only two aircraft capable of serving intercontinental routes: a leased A330-300 (46 seats in Business class, 203 in Economy) and an A340-300(38+215), whose main task is to serve as a substitute during maintenance operations or to reinforce capacities according to demand.
SAA’s CEO, John Lamola, has already announced that he intends to “double his leased fleet” by next April, with at least one widebody aircraft, which would therefore be an A350.
SAA’s network from Johannesburg currently includes Cape Town, Durban, and Port Elizabeth, and internationally, it serves Accra (Ghana), Blantyre and Lilongwe (Malawi), Harare (Zimbabwe), Kinshasa (DRC), Lusaka (Zambia), Mauritius, Maputo (Mozambique), Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) and Windhoek (Namibia).
South African Airways now has three A319-100s (leased from Castlelake), two A320-200s leased from Goshawk and three others taken from GECAS, and therefore the two jumbo jets. It operated 44 before its bankruptcy at the end of 2019.