Airlink (South Africa) (4Z, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) has expressed an interest in acquiring select assets from South African Airways (SA, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) should the bankrupt carrier's business rescue practitioners (BRP) chose to spin them off.

Managing director Rodger Foster told Reuters that Airlink, a privately-owned regional carrier that currently operates under an SAA franchise agreement, had registered an interest with the BRPs to acquire "a stake in SAA’s low-cost subsidiary Mango Airlines (JE, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo)" as well as "some infrastructure" at its MRO unit, South African Airways Technical.

SAA was declared bankrupt and entered business rescue in December last year amid billions of rands in debts. Since then, it has undertaken a massive restructuring of its network and fleet, opting to drop the bulk of its domestic route, save for Johannesburg O.R. Tambo-Cape Town, as well as cutting many routes from its international network from February 29 onwards.

Following SAA's most recent announcement, Airlink said in a press release that it will operate services linking Johannesburg with Port Elizabeth, Entebbe/Kampala, Ndola, and Luanda after February 29, 2020.

“Our flights will operate under the 'SA8' flight code until June 10, 2020, after which they will be operated under Airlink’s unique '4Z' code. '4Z' tickets are already available through travel agents, tour operators and online,” Foster said, highlighting Airlink's impending withdrawal from its SAA franchise.

Given the gravity of SAA's network reduction and fleet sale, BRPs Les Matuson and Siviwe Dongwana have had to defend their decision in light of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa's comments on Friday in which he made plain his government's disapproval of the move. Trade unions, various Provincial Governments, the Department of Public Enterprises (Which oversees SAA), and the South African Communist Party (SACP) have also added their condemnations.

“We recognize the concerns raised, especially around the domestic routes. We will continue to engage with stakeholders, with a commitment to include inputs into the final business rescue plan, which is due to be published by the end of this month," Matuson and Dongwana said in a statement.

“The decisions we took and informed the public of this week were taken in the best interests of SAA. They are intended to make the airline commercially and operationally sustainable, free from the requirement of future funding from the Government post the implementation of the restructure."

"The actions are aimed at improving SAA's balance sheet which is intended to create a platform for a strong and sustainable airline and so ensure that the company is more attractive for potential strategic equity partners."

Under South African business rescue procedures, the airline's acting CEO, executive chair, board and shareholder minister must all defer to the BR practitioner.