South African Airways (SAA) says it will hold onto its sought-after slots at capacity-constrained Heathrow Airport for at least the next three years as the financially-challenged flag carrier looks to relaunch long-haul intercontinental flights.
SAA chief executive John Lamola recently confirmed that the airline was “under pressure” to resume direct flights between its hub in Johannesburg and London Heathrow, but the airline currently lacks enough long-haul aircraft capable of operating the route.
The distinctive SAA livery hasn’t been seen at Heathrow Airport for more than three years after the airline suspended all long-haul operations when it was placed under bankruptcy protection by the South African government.
South African Airlines found itself on the brink of collapse in late 2019 after long-running financial troubles came to a head. Last-ditch efforts to drastically cut costs were fiercely resisted by the airline’s hardline unions, and the government had to step in to save the carrier just before the pandemic struck.
The airline relaunched in June 2021 with the help of a private investor who has taken control of 51% of the company, although efforts to rebuild the airline and its network remain very much a work in progress.
Despite buoyant travel demand, South African Airways has so far failed to capture much market share, and foreign carriers still control 80% of the market for international flights to and from South Africa, according to Lamola.
Going forward, however, Lamola says he expects “over deregulation” of foreign carriers to be “tempered.”
“We are confident we can take on the routes that foreign carriers are flying,” Lamola was quoted as saying by Southern Africa’s Travel News at a recent aviation conference.
Just prior to going into bankruptcy protection, SAA had leased four new A350-900 aircraft, but these had to be returned in early 2020, and the airline currently lacks the long-haul capacity to relaunch its long-haul network.
SAA has 14 weekly slots at Heathrow, which it had been leasing out to Qatar Airways. That lease arrangement finished on March 25.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.