South African Airways (SA, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) will take to the skies again in July or at the latest early to mid-August 2021, according to its new interim chief executive officer, Thomas Kgokolo.

“Momentum is starting to build quickly at SAA with a view to resuming full domestic and regional operations within weeks,” he said.

The carrier will confirm an exact relaunch date pending the finalisation of labour negotiations with SAA pilots about their severance packages, he added, describing the process as positive and involving regular engagement. Departure agreements of other union members are still being completed, resulting in the workforce shrinking from 4,000 to about 1,000 employees.

In his first formal statement since SAA exited business rescue on April 30 after receiving ZAR7.8 billion (USD556 million) of a ZAR10.5 billion (USD749 million) state bail-out, Kgokolo said the national carrier had taken the strategic decision to focus on profitable local and regional routes first. The lucrative Johannesburg O.R. Tambo-Cape Town International run would most likely be amongst its first routes on a new and slimmed down timetable.

SAA’s first intercontinental service would probably only resume in two years as the carrier’s new management team had limited operating capital at its disposal, he said.

Of the allocated amount, ZAR2 billion (USD141.4 million) has been set aside for working capital once the airline starts flying again. Still, the carrier must also provide consumer protection cash guarantees totalling ZAR1 billion (USD70.7 million) before it can fly again, board chairperson Geoff Qhena told a parliamentary oversight committee last week.

The government is looking towards securing a private equity partnership that will provide long-term sustainability to the airline. Kgokolo confirmed that talks continued, at the government level, with an as-yet-unnamed strategic equity partner. These talks are to be finalised within the month, lawmakers were told last week.

Meanwhile, Kgokolo said his task was to ensure that SAA became “an efficient, reliable, and profitable business in the coming months which would pass muster during any due diligence process”.

Kgokolo made no mention of the airline's fleet plans. Industry sources suggest the airline will reactivate its three stored A319-100s. According to its business rescue plan, SAA will cut its fleet from 44 to 26 aircraft consisting of 10 small narrowbodies (which it didn't have in the fleet before), nine narrowbodies, and seven widebodies. During the business rescue process, SAA terminated all leases, and new contracts were to be negotiated under more favourable terms.

According to the ch-aviation ch-aviation fleets module, SAA has retained three A319-100s owned by Castlelake, and one A330-300 owned by Aero Capital Solutions. It has been trying to sell its own three A340-300s and four A340-600s stored in Johannesburg.