Countdown to South African Airways relaunch

THE beleaguered South African Airways (SAA) is just a day away from its much-anticipated re-launch after ceasing all operations almost a year ago.

The airline will resume operations on Thursday, starting with flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town, Accra, Kinshasa, Harare, Lusaka and Maputo.

SAA has not flown any commercial flights since March 2020 and ceased all cargo and repatriation flights in September last year.

South African Airways is relaunching after around 18 months with no commercial flights. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying
SAA finally returns to the skies

South African Airways announced last month that it had set a date (September 23rd) to resume operations. True to its word, SAA will relaunch tomorrow after a year of inactivity and almost 18 months without a commercial flight. The carrier will initially offer flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town, Accra, Kinshasa, Harare, Lusaka and Maputo.

Interim CEO Thomas Kgokolo said,

“After months of diligent work, we are delighted that SAA is resuming service and we look forward to welcoming onboard our loyal passengers and flying the South African flag. We continue to be a safe carrier and adhering to COVID-19 protocols.”

South African A330-300
The airline will offer flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town, Accra, Kinshasa, Harare, Lusaka and Maputo. Photo: Airbus
The airline will offer flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town, Accra, Kinshasa, Harare, Lusaka and Maputo. Photo: Airbus

The airline hasn’t operated any commercial flights since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. From that period until September 2020, the airline maintained cargo and repatriation flights but was forced to cease all operations due to financial problems.

After spending a period of 17 months in administration, SAA finally exited ‘business rescue‘ in April 2021, before the South African government agreed to sell its majority stake to Takatso Consortium in June.

Simon Newton-Smith, Interim Executive of Commercial Operations at SAA, said,

“The focus right now is bringing back what’s familiar. Really making the customer focus and we haven’t always been known for that, certainly on the lead up to business rescue but the team is coming back with a very refreshed mindset.”

More flights will be based on ‘market conditions

Initially, SAA will offer a thrice-daily Johannesburg – Cape Town service, along with international flights from Johannesburg to Accra, Kinshasa, Harare, Lusaka and Maputo. The airline has said it will add more destinations to its network depending on ‘market conditions.’

SAA bailout package
South African Airways will expand its network depending on market conditions. Photo: Airbus

Tickets went on sale on August 26th and have sold well, according to the airline. According to Interim CEO Kgokolo, early figures indicate flights may be up to 75% full. Opening up other routes may prove to be a complication due to ongoing travel restrictions.

Kgokolo added,

“There is a profound feeling of enthusiasm within Team SAA as we prepare for takeoff, with one common purpose -to rebuild and sustain a profitable airline that once again takes a leadership role among local, continental, and international airlines.”

New investors not yet involved

Takatso Consortium has confirmed it isn’t yet involved in the airline’s management or funding. Takatso, a joint venture between private-equity company Harith General Partners and Global Aviation, has yet to finalize its takeover almost three months after agreeing to a deal with South Africa’s Department of Public Enterprises (DPE).

South African Airways Airbus A330
A consortium agreed to buy a majority stake in SAA in June. Photo: Getty Images

Kgokolo said,

“We’re done with due diligence, and negotiations are taking place on the share purchase agreement. It can be complex and take time.”

Takatso has promised to invest up to 3.5 billion rand ($243 million) over the next three years. Kgokolo said last week that SAA would need a modern fleet if it plans on being competitive outside of Africa. The airline’s current all-Airbus fleet has an average age exceeding 15 years.

Source: Simply Flying