SAA to resume dormant global routes after ‘hogging’ murmurs

SAA has confirmed plans to return some of the intercontinental routes. Supplied

SAA has confirmed plans to return some of the intercontinental routes. Supplied

Published Apr 19, 2024


South African Airways (SAA) has confirmed its plans to return to some of the intercontinental routes it has not served since it went into business rescue.

The troubled state-owned carrier yesterday dismissed claims from industry players that special effort was being made to reserve these routes against bilateral partners interested in more frequencies to take the slack.

SAA has thus far resumed services to São Paulo, Brazil, from Johannesburg and Cape Town, and will next Sunday restart services to Perth, Australia.

“The airline does have plans to return to some of the intercontinental routes we served in the past, however, this growth will be in a phased and prudent manner to ensure the sustainability of the airline,” SAA spokesperson Vimla Maistry said yesterday.

“The designation of airlines on routes is the function of the Air Service Licensing Council. The airline engages the council as and when necessary as part of licence conditions,” Maistry said.

Routes still outstanding for SAA which have sparked the debate on open skies include London, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich, Hong Kong, Mauritius, and Washington DC, among others.

“Only the International Air Services Licensing Council is empowered to designate airlines on routes,” Maistry said.

“Therefore no airline (including SAA) can privately engage parties on route rights. The routes designated to SAA are governed by the International Air Services Act. As such, SAA cannot and does not shield routes for future use.”

Industry insiders have said the government has been obstinate in reserving the routes for the resuscitation of SAA, pointing out that at the last International Commission for Air Navigation (ICAN) in December, no concessions were made by South Africa to increase international participation in its skies.

International Air Service Licensing Council chairperson Nomveliso Ntanjana said there was no question of slots being reserved for the national carrier, adding that the council had since 2022 reviewed and reissued dormant licences, some which had been scheduled for SAA.

“There is nothing exclusively for SAA. It is an industry standard to review the use of licenses and re-allocate those that are not being used,” Ntanjana said.

“How can we reserve slots for SAA when it is clear the carrier is not able to fulfil some of the licences it holds?”

Ntanjana also said that without pointing out specific airlines, the national carrier was in a competitive industry and others were available to take its slots.

She referred the question of opening up skies to the Department of Transport, which has been mum on the matter.

The Board of Airline Representatives of South Africa (Barsa) CEO George Mothema yesterday said SAA had done well to resume some of the transatlantic routes including Brazil, which he said were key to facilitating trade in the country.

“We are seeing positive capacity,” Mothema said.

“From recent statistics, the industry is looking good. It is great for the customers using the airlines if there is competition, because that comes with  benefits.”

Mothema also said it was necessary for South Africa to accelerate its aviation infrastructure development to meet the required levels for transatlantic flights which were increasingly using the runways.

“Air access at international-level needs to be opened up. There are code share agreements that are being made such as the Air Emirates arrangement with SAA over Dubai,” Mothema said.

“We want to see growth of the national carrier or any other operators that will help increase the (air) traffic.”