South African Airways (SA, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) has long-term plans to reintroduce A350 operations to resume most long-haul routes it was flying before the Covid-19 pandemic, says interim chief commercial officer, Tebogo Tsimane.

To start with, the state-owned airline plans to use its leased A330-300s to launch two long-haul routes – to São Paulo Guarulhos (Brazil) and Perth International (Australia) - by the end of the current financial year ending March 31, 2023, he said on a recent Travel News Weekly webcast.

A second phase will see the national carrier resume flights to Frankfurt International (Germany), London Heathrow (UK), Washington Dulles and New York JFK (USA) with A350s. It is also looking at routes in the pipeline before it entered bankruptcy in December 2019 and stopped all commercial flights in 2020, including another gateway to Australia – probably Melbourne Tullamarine – but "this would take a while," he said.

SAA previously operated four A350-900s between October 2019 and August 2020, including former Air Mauritius aircraft and two ex-Hainan Airlines aircraft leased from Avolon, the ch-aviation fleets history module shows.

"The routes that we've picked for this year are the routes that will be easier and quicker for us to start. They do not require the type of investment that will take us long," he explained.

Apart from restarting long-haul operations, the state-owned carrier also plans to add schedules to more coastal destinations, including between Cape Town and Durban, Johannesburg and George, and Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth, Tsimane disclosed.

SAA resumed commercial flights on September 23, 2021, as a vastly diminished carrier after a ZAR10.5 billion rand (USD570.3 million) bailout with a small fleet of six aircraft comprising three A319-100s leased from Castlelake, two A320-200s leased from Goshawk, and one A330-300 leased from Aero Capital Solutions. With the addition of three more A320-200s leased from GECAS, the fleet has since grown to ten aircraft, which includes one in-house A340-300 used as a spare, ch-aviation fleets data reveals. The flag carrier operated 44 aircraft before it entered voluntary administration. Its business rescue plan foresaw a fleet of 26 aircraft by December 2021, comprising ten "small narrowbodies" [presumably regional aircraft], nine narrowbodies, and seven widebodies.

The airline initially resumed services on one domestic route between Johannesburg O.R. Tambo and Cape Town International and on five regional routes: Accra (Ghana), Harare International (Zimbabwe), Kinshasa N'Djili (DRC), Lusaka (Zambia), and Maputo (Mozambique). It has since introduced services to Durban King Shaka, Blantyre and Lilongwe International (Malawi), Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe), Mauritius, and Windhoek International (Namibia).

The airline is to receive another ZAR1 billion (USD) state bailout to settle a portion of the outstanding obligations on the implementation of its business rescue plan. The funds will be used to cover outstanding liabilities, specifically those relating to the final dividend payment to creditors and the refund of legacy unflown ticket revenue dating back to the pre-business rescue period in December 2019.

Commenting on the latest bailout, SAA's Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, John Lamola, stated: "SAA's operations have progressed positively since the airline emerged from business rescue, and as reported to Parliament earlier this month, SAA is no longer technically insolvent, a milestone which we reached a year earlier than projected".

Chief Financial Officer Fikile Mhlontlo added: "SAA has reached a point where we cover our operating costs. It must be emphasised that the allocation announced relates only to historical debt. These funds are not meant to bolster the business plan we are currently executing".

The airline explained that the ZAR1 billion allocation was part of ZAR3.5 billion (USD190 million) that its administrators had ring-fenced into a receivership. "The total balance expected from National Treasury has been reduced to ZAR2.586 billion (USD140.4 million). The airline will continue to negotiate with National Treasury for the balance of the funds and cooperate with all the conditions that may accompany the flow of these funds," it stated.

Takatso, the government's preferred strategic equity partner for the semi-privatisation of SAA, said the allocation fell short of clearing the historical debt, which the government has undertaken to do as one of the conditions for finalising the transaction that has been negotiated for almost two years since first announced in June 2021. "The partial fulfilment of this obligation is not what Takatso Aviation had expected. We will therefore have to assess the impact thereof on the progress of the transaction," it stated.

Lamola previously told ch-aviation that SAA would double its leased fleet to 12 aircraft by April 2023 as part of a fleet and intercontinental route expansion plan to be implemented irrespective of delays or even indefinite postponement of the privatisation deal with Takatso.

He said by April 2023, the fleet would consist of ten A320-200s, one A330-300, and another wide-body (A350) for intercontinental routes.