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Is South African Airways heading back to London?

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Flag carrier airlines are exceptionally hard things to kill. Whilst independent start up airlines often have a short life, national pride means that flag carriers can be kept alive despite all economic logic, as the multiple bailouts of Alitalia over the years showed.

This is a wayward introduction to saying that …. South African Airways is back.

South African Airways ceased flights in September 2020, although regular passengers services had ended in March 2020 when the pandemic took off. The company had been in ‘business rescue’ since 2019 – covid was just the final nail in the coffin.

Is South African Airways heading back to London?

Since returning to the skies it has resumed several domestic and regional routes but nothing long haul.

South African Airways is heading back to international flying

The South African Government has approved plans for SAA to lease an additional five short haul A320 aircraft and a grand total of one additional long haul A330 aircraft.

The company has announced that the A330 will allow it to launch one intercontinental route.

Whilst the exact route won’t be announced for some weeks, London is obviously a strong possibility.

London makes sense in terms of the large diaspora here and the strong UK / South Africa tourist market. The downside, of course, is the strong competition from British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

The only snag is that one A330 isn’t enough to run a daily flight to Heathrow. As well as a 12 hour flying time, the aircraft sits on the ground at Heathrow all day. Three flights per week would seem to be the practical limit to what could be done.

Other possibilities include Frankfurt (previously operated, allows Star Alliance connections to/from Lufthansa), Dubai or somewhere on the US East Coast where it could connect to Star Alliance. The airline has also been rumoured to be considering Perth and Sao Paulo.

That said, if South African Airways realistically wants to be seen as a global carrier again, London is where they need to be.

Comments (26)

  • WaynedP says:

    Ha, empirical sophistication of commercial nouse exercised by the current lot of decision makers there would suggest Moscow.

  • BJ says:

    If true, alarm bells should be ringing for anybody flying Virgin to SA, tgey’ll likely up and run..

    Realistically, the last few years have shown that Brexit Britain is not a place where you need to be.

    • Jake says:

      Sorry, I’m lost.

      How have you linked the start of a max 3-weekly new route, to that of a cancellation of a well-trodden path by a major carrier- to further link to a political event 8years ago.

      • BJ says:

        Virgin have been prone to chopping and changing their network outside the Americas. Competition on routes likely a factor.

        “That said, if South African Airways realistically wants to be seen as a global carrier again, London is where they need to be.”

        Since Brexit I don’t think there’s as much enthusiasm for London and UK as some Londoners and Brits would like to believe.

        • AJA says:

          Re the enthusiasm for the UK / London that’s your opinion but would it interest you to know that on leaving the EU the UK immediately entered the top 10 list of EU trading partners and as of March 2023 China is the most important trading partner of the European Union and accounts for about 16 percent of all EU trade in goods, followed by the United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Russia.

          In other words little old UK is no3 in the list. I really don’t understand why people disparage the UK so much.

          • MT says:

            The fact Swizerland is number 4 maybe tells you a lot about the type of trade that makes up the numbers. The question is going forwards will the EU continue to see the UK as the place for this trade or is it linked to the fact we have only just left and as such its quite logical we would make up a large part of the EU trade? In 5 to 10 years I wonder where we will end up on this list!

            If SAA launch the route to London, with 1 aircraft I cannot see it making money, they would be much better launching it with a codeshare allience with a partner, thus if things go wrong they have options and they really need to make better use of the aircraft than is sitting on the ground all day! But if history teaches us anything, not all airlines need to be logical or make money!

          • BJ says:

            I am not, I just never thought Brexit was good for us and I still don’t. There are endless stats that can be selectively presetted and interpreted in such a way as to both support and refute this. I’m not going to dwell on them because I’m no expert in business and economics. I am not disputing the fact that the UK is a successful economy and an attractive place to do business, just that I am in no doubt that it has becone less so since 2016.

          • Lady London says:

            Does freight not make routes to the UK from RSA pay?

          • BJ says:

            @LadyLondon, might do, I have no idea.

        • Jake says:

          Okay makes more sense. From a tourism, business and air routes perspective it does seem to still have a pull.

          A lot of “flagship” routes are still headed toward London

  • Curious person says:

    Where would they get the LHR slot from?

    • Rob says:

      I would imagine SAA would be legally entitled to slots under the terms of the bilateral flight agreement between the two countries.

      • KC says:

        SAA have been seasonally leasing a daily slot pair to QR since the pandemic

      • Dev says:

        Not unless the bilateral specifically allows slots to be awarded to designated carriers. Having a route authority and a slot to land/takeoff are two very separate things!

      • anon says:

        This is not how slots work!

        • Rob says:

          True on paper. In reality ACL does what that Government says, and if SAA are entitled to fly to London and need fresh slots they will get them.

          JetBlue got their Heathrow slots after intervention from the US Government.

      • pigeon says:

        Think they leased their prime slots to SQ?

        Problem is it’s hard to compete against BA’s 2xA380 plus the indirect routes when you have an A330. Expect PER and GRU instead.

  • Ben says:

    BJ you could start your own airline: RemoanAir

    • Doommonger says:

      Is that the best you can do? Poor effort C-

    • Jake says:

      In fairness Nigel F said brexit was a failure the other day.

      Whether you blame it on the implementation (as he did) or the idea is still up for debate but if Nigel is saying it’s a failure then somethings gone wrong…

    • Ironside says:

      The retort is far too easy: QuitAir.

    • BJ says:

      Not saying anything the Conservative government has not already acknowledged.

  • Sean M. says:

    They have said their initial planned markets are Sao Paulo and Perth. No London in the immediate plans.

  • Lyn says:

    In terms of both a large diaspora, and relatively limited competition, Australia might make sense. Reintroduction of the Perth route perhaps?

  • Patrick says:

    Why does the aircraft have to sit on the ground all day? Can’t they turn it around relatively quickly?

    • Rob says:

      Not easily, no. Day flights have always proved unpopular – there is a reason why the day flight from New York is called the ‘Chairman’s Flight’, because no other employee could ever get approval to ‘waste’ a working day sitting on a plane when there is an overnight alternative – and you get into issues over the operating hours of the airports.

      BA has minimised it as much as possible, but the aircraft still lands in Cape Town at 11.55am (10.25pm out of Heathrow, one of the last to leave) and still sits in Cape Town until 6.40pm (making it virtally the first arrival into Heathrow at 5.50am).

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