SA Airways: Keeping pace with the fast-moving aviation sector

As the aviation world broadens its networks, Africa remains a Continent loaded with potential. Of course the more developed African economies have better links to the rest of the world, none more so than South Africa.

South African Airways (SAA) is the national flag carrier and remains the largest airline in the country. The company is celebrating quite a landmark in 2014, its 80th anniversary.

Today SAA flies to over 37 international destinations in 26 countries in Africa, Europe, North America, South America, Asia and Australasia. SAA is one of the few carriers to have services to all 6 inhabited continents. The airline also has a strong presence in Southern Africa, while domestically it reportedly serves 5 cities. 

airwaysThe company was formed on 1 February 1934 following the acquisition of Union Airways by the South African Government. The takeover involved 40 staff members, along with one de Havilland DH.60 Gypsy Moth, one de Havilland 80A Puss Moth, 3 Junkers F.13s and a leased Junkers F13 and Junkers A50. Upon acquisition, the Government changed the airline’s name to South African Airways. 

In 1997 a major overhaul programme, which involved a change of name, image and aircraft livery got underway and SAA introduced online ticketing services. The carrier has since joined airline alliance Star Alliance, and replaced its fleet with newer aircraft. In 2006, SAA split from Transnet, its former parent company, to operate as an independent airline.

Today the company remains the predominate force in South Africa’s commercial aviation sphere and has its headquarters in Airways Park, on the grounds of OR Tambo International Airport, in Gauteng. 

Of course surviving for 80 years in an ever-changing industry such as aerospace, requires a fair bit of evolution. SAA has grown its fleet but also continues to upgrade its aircraft.

In May 2013 came the news that SAA had phased-out the last of its 6 A340-200s, ZS-SLF (c/n 6) and was set to continue to operate a fleet of 8 A340-300s and 9 A340-600s. As global fuel prices continue to bite, many of the world’s airlines are moving to retire the type from their fleet.

Then last July the company announced it aimed to reduce costs and boost revenue with its new A320 fleet.

At that time the company took delivery of its first 2 A320s out of a total of 20 A320 Family aircraft ordered from Airbus in 2010. The development is set to deliver cost efficiencies and allow SAA to expand its Sub-Sahara regional route network and boost revenue in the rapidly growing market. 

The airline’s A320s, powered by IAE-V2500 engines, feature a 2 class cabin layout, seating 24 passengers in business class and 114 in economy. The A320s will replace its present fleet of 737-800s and will augment the A319s it already has in service and mark the latest phase of SAA’s  fleet modernization plan.

“We are delighted to receive our first two A320 aircraft. Operating a modern and homogenous fleet plays a significant role in cost reduction and boosting revenue. The A320 will assist SAA to achieve this while providing our passengers with a more superior cabin product,” said Monwabisi Kalawe, SAA’s Chief Executive Officer.

“SAA has long been regarded as a bellwether for Africa on aircraft selection and we are looking forward to expanding our relationship. Our reliable, fuel efficient and comfortable A320s will give SAA a competitive edge and help the airline achieve sustainable profitability,” said John Leahy, Airbus Chief Operating Officer, Customers.

The A320 Family is the world’s best-selling and most modern single aisle aircraft Family. To date, over 9,600 aircraft have been ordered and more than 5,600 delivered to over 380 customers and operators worldwide. With proven reliability and extended servicing periods, the A320 Family has the lowest operating costs of any single-aisle aircraft.  

Fuel costs and availability continue to play an important role when it comes to costings and in 2012 the company announced plans to decrease its carbon footprint by using biofuel for 50 per cent of its fuel supply by 2020. 

The announcement was made by public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba at the launch of the Climate Change Policy Framework for state-owned companies. The framework aims to reduce carbon emissions while developing the green economy in both South Africa and the region, without compromising the financial viability of companies.

A technical and supply chain working group consisting of state-owned enterprises and relevant government departments will construct an initial aviation biofuel strategy to be announced by autumn to achieve the 50 per cent biofuel goal.

“This will create a pressing demand for an extremely large quantity of biofuels which can form a base load against which a fully vertically integrated biofuels industry can develop in South Africa as well as in the Southern African region,” said Gigaba. 

Whilst fuel costs remain one of the highest overheads, the need to form partnerships is also a top priority for SAA.

This February news came through that SAA was to link up with Virgin Australia through a new codeshare agreement.

It was reported that the new alliance will allow SAA passengers to book from Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide – but not Sydney – onto SAA’s Perth-Johannesburg flight by connecting to Perth on domestic Virgin Australia routes.

Virgin Australia maintains its Johannesburg service through Singapore Airlines, as a full codeshare on SQ flights via Singapore, with full Velocity points and status credits earnings.

Commenting on the new agreement, SAA’s Country Manager for Australasia Tim Clyde-Smith stated that “we look forward to strengthening our partnership with Virgin Australia in the future.”

Travellers on South African Airways can also connect through from SAA’s flight into Perth onto Virgin Australia domestic services.

With such a rich pedigree and so much adaptation over the years, it is little wonder that South African Airways states: “We are proud to be the national airline of South Africa and deliver a world-class experience over our 80 years of flying.”