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  • Chidozie Uzoezie

South African Airways Ready to Restart Long-haul Flights - CEO

Exactly 18 months after returning to the skies, South African Airways, the national carrier of the Republic of South Africa, says it is now ready to resume scheduled long-haul Intercontinental flights. This was disclosed by the airline’s CEO, Professor John Lamola, in an exclusive interview with AeroTime.

Speaking to AeroTime, Lamola said that South African Airways was looking at resuming long-haul operations to several destinations, including Sao Paulo, Brazil and Perth, Australia in a matter of months. The airline is also looking at restarting long-haul services to London, New York, and Washington in the immediate future.

"We are ready now to start. From July or August, we will begin to sell flights again to either Sao Paulo or Perth and start operating maybe a month later. The destinations are picked based on empirical research, but, of course, the market changes every few months. 

We have been under a lot of pressure to restart our routes to London and the United States by our customers. We have a loyalty program with members who can’t spend their miles, because we don’t have enough international routes. In the United States it’s also a regulatory issue, if you don’t fly for 12 months, you lose your route rights. So, every 12 months we have to plead with the US Department of Transportation to allow us more time. In Heathrow we still have four daily slots that we have leased out, making money for us, two each in the morning and in the evening." Lamola said.

In terms of aircraft strategy for the resumption of long-haul operations, Lamola said that South African Airways would resume long-haul routes with the Airbus A330, while making plans to retake some of its former Airbus A350s.

"Fact is that we are the national carrier and, as such, we have an obligation for long-haul airlift capability in South Africa. SAA is the only airline in South Africa that flies wide-bodies. We will restart long-haul operations with our A330s. We then want to retake some of our former A350s currently stored in France. They have been offered to us. We have lessors knocking on our door every day. We said no so far, as we undertake our route studies. But the plan is to retake two A350s and maybe move to the third."

According to Lamola, South African Airways is also considering re-establishing an international hub at Cape Town International Airport with flights expected to operate directly from Cape Town to Europe from 2026 or earlier. International destinations being considered from Cape Town include Munich in Germany.

In an interesting twist, Lamola mulled that South African Airways, which is currently an all-Airbus airline, might become a Boeing customer in the future.

"We also have very strong propositions from Boeing, and we are in a major strategic partnership with Kenya Airways, and they fly Boeing 787s, so we have to also look for such synergies as well."

We have been in discussions with Airbus and Boeing. I just came back from Seattle where we sat down to look at the future of the broader SAA fleet."

It will be recalled that South African Airways went into business administration in 2020 due to bankruptcy and was subsequently grounded for more than a year. A business rescue plan saw the airline return to commercial operations in September, 2021 albeit with new management and restructured operations.

Currently, South African Airways has 9 aircraft, including an A340-300 and an A330-300. It will add a second A330 before the end of May. The airline says it has obtained the necessary approval from the ministry to acquire 6 more aircraft. They will be 5 A320s and one wide-body which will likely be an Airbus A350.


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Comments (25)

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