End Of The Road For South African Airways… Or Is It?


I had written this when news broke that all staff would be laid off by the beginning of May. That plan now seems to have changed. The latest news that I could find states that the old SAA will essentially be replaced by a “new restructured airline which will be a proud flagship for South Africa”.

In a nutshell: from the outside, it will appear to be the old SAA. However, underneath, there will be some drastic changes.

As I write this, there are no South African Airways flights airborne.

As I had written the article on their demise, I figured I may as well share it anyway!

South African Airways have ceased flying. The writing had been on the wall since late 2019. However, with the current world situation, it proved to be just too much for the airline.

It was announced in mid-April that the airlines 4700 staff would be laid off at the end of the month.

The airline ceased all commercial operations at the middle of March 2020. Since then, they had only operated cargo flights.

This comes after the South African government didn’t think it was economically viable to continue to support the airline, that had been losing money since 2011.

Like many other airlines the world one, South African Airways had been operating cargo only flights for a number of weeks prior to the shut down.

According to Bloomberg, the staff will receive one weeks pay per year of service with the airline. Which is more or less the standard redundancy rate – in the UK at least. I can’t say I’m too clued up with South African employment law however!

There is one caveat to this however. As South African Airways has so little cash on hand, the airline is reliant on selling their assets in order to pay their staff.

South African Airways Fleet

Fleet wise, the airline had an entirely Airbus fleet, with the exception of a pair of Boeing 737 freighters.

However, their long haul fleet was mostly of the previous generation. The backbone of South African Airways long haul fleet was the Airbus A340. Most airlines have been disposing of the type at a faster rate recently, due to the type being less efficient.

In addition, the airline operated 17 Airbus A320series for shorter sectors within Africa.

More recently, the Airbus A350 had joined the fleet. However, these weren’t initially destined for the airline. Two were ordered by LATAM, delivered to Hainan Airlines before being transferred to South African 9 months later. Two more Airbus A350’s were ordered by Air Mauritius but not taken up. Instead, they were leased straight to SAA.

Previously, South African Airways relied on Boeing for the lions share of their fleet. They operated a sizeable fleet of Boeing 747 aircraft on long haul routes, and the Boeing 737 on regional sectors.

South African Airways 747-400 at Heathrow
SAA 747-400 seen at Heathrow, March 2006

The Future

Going forward, this initially leaves South Africa without their own long haul airline. Currently there are only the likes of Comair, Kulula and Mango as the only major players in the country.

Could the South African Airways name be re-used in the future though? It could be that the South African government set up a new airline once things calm down in the world. Seeing as they have essentially been paying for the previous airline anyway, it could be that they have taken this opportunity to close it all down and start again.

Who knows, maybe they could rebrand as South African Airlines instead.

Header photo © South African Airways

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