The cash-strapped national carrier has suspended all operations while its administrator is trying to attract new sources of funding. Covid-19 travel bans that were partially lifted today (01OCT20), a huge debt level, and poor support by the Pretoria government that had announced cash injections of US$621 million as part of a broader restructuring plan but failed to release the funds, have caused the financial hardship.
Restructuring plan was put on the backburner
This step has been on the horizon for some time now, as the ill-managed national carrier has been unprofitable since 1994, (with the exception of 2011). Hence, last December, SAA was forced to file for creditor protection since the accumulated debts had surpassed 57 billion rand (US$3.9 billion). In MAR20, massive travel restrictions imposed by Pretoria to stop the corona pandemic from further spreading, worsened the situation dramatically and torpedoed all plans to restructure the carrier. The concept targeted both fleet and network, which were supposed to be downscaled, and included laying off staff, skipping loss making routes and instead concentrating on those that are profitable.
Cargo flights halted, too
Since the South African government locked the country down in March to stop the spread of COVID-19, South African Airways has not operated a single commercial flight. However, they have flown cargo and repatriation flights. Yet, these will now also cease following the latest news, a spokesperson for the administrators announced: “All existing cargo and repatriation flights will be undertaken. No new ones will be accepted.”
Strangely enough, on the Johannesburg-based national carrier's website so far no announcement has been made regarding the halt of operations. However, the management confirmed to news agencies that the airline would remain being inactive until ongoing rescue talks were finalized, adding that, if the Pretoria government failed to provide the required state funding, other options under consideration would include SAA's liquidation or sale, should an investor be found.
Hence, the coming weeks will show whether the 1934 founded airline survives or disappears from the African landscape. A tendency in one direction or the other is currently not apparent.
Meanwhile, Qatar Airways has announced the resumption of three key destinations in South Africa: Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg. The services will be operated by a mix of the airline’s Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 aircraft. Including the new flights, QR operates 19 weekly services from its home base Doha to South Africa, offering cargo clients abundant lower deck capacity for their freight consignments.
Brussels Airlines (SN) intends to up their African flights as well. As of the end of October, SN will fly to Abidjan on a daily basis, operating A330 passenger aircraft. Also, frequencies to Banjul, Bujumbura, Dakar, Douala, Entebbe, Freetown, Kigali, Kinshasa, Monrovia, and Yaoundé will be increased. In February 2021, Luanda and New York (JFK) are planned to be added to the network as well.
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