Airbus, one of the aircraft manufacturers that SAA has engaged with about the acquisition of new generation wide-bodied aircrafts, yesterday unveiled that its A350-900 would burn 40 percent less fuel than SAA’s current fleet of A340-600.
The French-based aircraft manufacturer said after taking into account all operating and fleet acquisition costs, the A350-900 would cost SAA 11 percent less to operate each seat kilometre on its international routes.
SAA reported a R990 million loss in the last financial year, which the airline’s chief executive attributed to its loss-making long-haul routes.
According to Monwabisi Kalawe, all eight long-haul routes are loss-making. The airline has blamed this on the older generation four-engine planes that are currently being used on these routes.
But instead of addressing this by acquiring new aircrafts, SAA was sent back to the drawing board by the former minister of public enterprises, Malusi Gigaba, last year to redraft its tender proposal.
Speaking at the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France yesterday, SAA spokesman Tlali Tlali said the airline had since been given until September 30 to complete its request for proposals to acquire the wide-body planes.
But he said the process was going to take a couple of years and the airline needed to do something in the meantime to minimise losses on its international routes. Although it had not concluded this, it would look at different ways to acquire the aircrafts and this could involve leasing them.
Airbus senior marketing analyst Kwame Bekoe presented the manufacturer’s new twin engine A350 aircraft, which has an approximately 50 percent non-metallic composite structure that makes it weigh less and therefore consume less fuel. The plastic composite is manufactured by a Centurion-based company Aerosud.
The A350 was 15 percent more fuel efficient than the twin engine A330 that SAA also has in its long-haul fleet. Airbus said it used 25 percent less fuel per trip than its comparable Boeing 777.
Bekoe said Airbus had been in discussion with SAA about the acquisition of a twin engine wide-body aircraft for its route between Johannesburg and New York. He said by changing from the A340-600 to A350 aircrafts, SAA could save $173 million (R2 billion) a year.
But the first commercial aircraft in the A350 generation will only come into operation later this year when Airbus delivers it to Qatar Airways. When it comes to financing aircraft acquisitions, the longer and better the track record, the more financiers regard it as a liquid asset worth funding.
Airbus customer finance manager Matthew Saks said because of the number of orders it received for the A350, financing would not be difficult. “By definition, it’s already a highly liquid asset because of the orders we’ve received,” he said. From the African continent alone, Airbus has received 28 orders for the A350.
The other wide-body aircraft that Airbus presented to SAA was the A330. Because it has two engines, the airline had not been able to fly it over the South Atlantic until March, when it acquired the necessary safety certifications.
* Londiwe Buthelezi was hosted by Airbus and SAA at the Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France.