South African Airways (SAA), as South Africa’s national carrier, celebrates its two-year milestone after returning to the skies in September 2021.
Reflecting on the occasion, Interim Chief Executive Officer, Professor John Lamola, says that in the world of aviation, resilience plays a major factor in the success of airlines, particularly as many continue to weather the storms of the global shutdown in 2020 and other auxiliary challenges.
“As SAA, we have faced several significant challenges that led to the grounding of our proud airline for 18 months. However, since resuming operations, the team at the helm has been committed to rebuilding SAA into a stronger, more resilient version of its former self, managed by South Africans who understand the aviation landscape domestically and internationally, and who are charting a path based on strong fiscal governance,” he says.
The accomplishments of SAA over the past two years are a testament to its determination to once again soar to new heights as the flag carrier of South Africa. Some of these accomplishments include the expansion of routes to now include 13 destinations after resuming operations with a mere four routes. By March 2025, this number will increase to 22 – three intercontinental, 15 regional and four domestic.
Most notable is the recent reopening of SAA’s Sao Paulo, Brazil route, signalling the rejuvenation of its international routes. Adding to this, the airline is scheduled to launch a new route on 14 November to Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire. Known as the “Paris of Africa”, the route will provide passengers with an opportunity to explore other beautiful destinations in Africa.
“Our return to the international skies is proof of our positive progress over the past two years, and I am confident that in the coming years, we will be able to open new routes both domestically and internationally,” adds Lamola.
The recent leasing of an Airbus A320 forms part of SAA’s strategic expansion plans, with its long-term vision being the leasing of six new aircraft to meet the demand for domestic flights, providing passengers with additional travel options.
SAA’s current fleet includes seven aircraft, namely five A320s, one A330 and one A340. Following technical checks and maintenance, the recently arrived A320 will bring this figure up to eight.
With the remaining four A320s and another A330 due to arrive soon, its fleet will comprise 13 aircraft, excluding two Boeing 737-800s, which are expected later this year.
Lamola adds that leasing, as opposed to the outright purchase of aircraft, allows SAA the flexibility to analyse market requirements and strategically guide its growth.
“Our leasing of aircraft has been strategic, particularly since domestic routes between Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town have increased and are now surpassing pre-Covid levels. With the festive season upon us, our presence in the domestic skies will provide passengers with a greater number of options when travelling to their destinations,” explains Lamola.
SAA is intent on regaining its position as a leading African airline. So much so that it was awarded Best Cabin Crew in Africa for 2023 by Skytrax at its World Airline Awards earlier this year. Regarded as the Oscars of the airline industry, this award adds to SAA’s showcase of 14 previous awards for Best Airline in Africa, and the first African carrier to receive a 4-star rating.
Committed to bolstering the customer experience, the airline was also awarded 4th place in the World’s Most Improved Airline category, propelling SAA to 72nd place in Skytrax’s Top 100 World Airlines, improving from 79th place in 2022.
“At SAA, we believe that we are not just any airline. We are South Africa’s national carrier. Today, we are fueled by employees who work hard every day to ensure that the airline not only survives, but thrives. And with this mentality, I can assure all South Africans that we will continue on our upward trajectory and celebrate many years to come and regain our once-dominant position as a leading global carrier that we can all be proud of,” concludes Lamola.