SAA will employ its aircraft reserved for long-haul flights in an effort to expand its services in Africa. Photo: Reuters

SAA was facing growing competition from foreign airlines on its key African routes and its low-cost division, Mango, would be called on to fly to regional destinations, Siza Mzimela, the national carrier’s chief executive, said in Parliament yesterday.

Mango serves a limited number of domestic routes,

She said the policy of attracting foreign visitors to South Africa by developing Johannesburg as an international hub – which has caused SAA to withdraw international flights from Cape Town – was working well.

Increasing numbers of international passengers were using Johannesburg as an easy transit point from Beijing, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Mumbai, Perth and Hong Kong.

SAA was also using some of its wide-bodied aircraft normally flying long-haul routes to provide more capacity on its growing number of African routes, to maintain its position in the continent, until it could grow its fleet.

But it was facing growing competition in the regional market from foreign airlines, in particular Egyptair, Air France, fast-growing Emirates, Air Algerie, and British Airways (BA).

She said that capacity to and from Africa over the past two years had increased by more than 32 percent, “mostly provided by non-African airlines”.

A table showing the top 20 carriers serving Africa to non-African destinations was headed by Egyptair, followed by Royal Air Maroc, Ethiopian Airlines, Air France and SAA, with Emirates immediately following SAA. BA was in ninth place following Kenya Airways and Air Algerie.

Meanwhile, the Transport Department is negotiating with some African governments to allow SAA to fly into their countries, from which it is kept out by protectionist policies.

Emirates, which flies daily to all three state-owned airports, is growing its fleet and adding new destinations, in line with its policy of using its home airport of Dubai as a hub from which it offers connecting flights. Emirates was able to grow in relation to SAA on an ongoing basis, Mzimela said.

Mzimela added that SAA’s current analysis showed that west Africa was substantially underserved.

SAA is looking at the feasibility of establishing an SAA/SA Express/Mango hub in Ghana. To be able to do this, SAA needs to take a 49 percent stake and acquire a sound local partner with capital.

SAA would increase its Ghana capacity for long-haul feeder traffic, especially to South America, Asia and Australia. SAA subsidiaries SAA Technical, Air Chefs and Cargo would then transfer skills to a new airline in Ghana to ensure government support.