State to give SAA funds for new fleet

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Copy of nt airways . File photo

SAA will get the money it needs from the government to acquire a new fleet and install a premium economy class on its long haul planes, but it may not be as much as the R6 billion it asked for.

It was confirmed in Parliament last week that the airline would be recapitalised but the actual sum has not been decided.

The decision hasn’t resulted in the storm of protest from rivals Comair and 1Time that greeted decisions made earlier to use taxpayers’ money to help SAA pay its debts.

Malusi Gigaba, the Minister of Public Enterprises, said this was not another case of bailing SAA out as a result of mistakes or mismanagement, but of necessary recapitalisation by its only shareholder, the government, to enable it to acquire more economical aircraft to cope with soaring prices.

He said airlines worldwide were replacing gas-guzzling older planes, some with recapitalisation from their shareholders. Another possible solution, either to privatise SAA or to turn it into a public/private enterprise by offering shares to SA and foreign investors, is apparently not on the cards.

This could change, of course, if attempts by airlines and aircraft manufacturers – who are working to find a cheaper, non-polluting source of fuel – succeed in making it commercially viable to replace the expensive, polluting, fossil fuels. It would also need governments that use airlines as cash cows by imposing high taxes, to realise the importance of air travel to their economies, and either reduce or remove this taxation altogether. The latest International Air Transport Association survey shows that demand for international flights was recovering in March.

SAA is clearly right in planning to introduce a super-economy class in view of its popularity with passengers who want a little more comfort and leg-room on long-haul flights, without the expense of business class.

SAA, which has been in talks with both Boeing and Airbus, will have to decide fairly soon which of the new aircraft it wants. Waiting lists are already long but, fortunately, leasing companies were among the first to order them so it seems likely SAA will lease the first of its new fleet.

Meanwhile Boeing’s Dreamliner, which is one of the aircraft the manufacturer hopes SAA will order, is ending a worldwide tour. In addition to saving fuel, the lightweight composite materials used in the aircraft have enabled it to have much larger windows.

Biofuel

One of SAA’s partners in the Star Alliance, All Nippon Airlines, is the launch customer for the aircraft and has already taken delivery of several, including one that was flown all the way from Seattle to Japan entirely on biofuel, showing that it can be done.

Rival manufacturer Airbus is hoping that SAA will, instead, order its newest mid-size wide-bodied aircraft, the A350 XWB, the first of which was completed last month and is now undergoing tests. It also is made partly of lightweight composite materials and incorporates some of the features in the giant Airbus A380.

Skytrax award

Heathrow’s Terminal 5, used exclusively by British airways, has won the coveted Skytrax award for the best airport terminal in the world. The awards are based on surveys conducted among airline passengers by independent company Skytrax.

Receiving the award, Frank van der Post, BA’s managing director of brands and customer experience, said the airline would invest more than £5bn (R65.9bn) in new aircraft, smarter cabins, elegant lounges and new technologies “to make life more comfortable in the air and on the ground”.

Singapore’s Changi Airport was judged the second best terminal in the world, followed by Beijing’s Capital International Airport, San Francisco International Airport and Madrid’s Barajas Airport, in that order. - Weekend Argus

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