South African Airways

South African Airways
IATA ICAO Callsign
Founded 1 February 1934 (1934-02-01)
Hubs OR Tambo International Airport
Focus cities Cape Town International Airport
Frequent-flyer program Voyager
Airport lounge
  • Cycad First Class Lounge[1]
  • Baobab Premium Class Lounge[2]
Alliance Star Alliance
Subsidiaries Mango
Fleet size 52
Destinations 42
Company slogan Bringing the world to Africa and taking Africa to the world
Parent company Government of South Africa
Headquarters OR Tambo International Airport
Kempton Park, Ekurhuleni, Gauteng, South Africa
Key people Musa Zwane (Acting CEO)
Revenue Increase R27,1 billion (2012/13 FY)[3]
Operating income Decrease R60 million (2012/13 FY)[4]
Profit Decrease R-991 million Loss (2012/13 FY)[3]
Total assets Decrease R14,044 million (2009/10 FY)[5]:37

South African Airways (SAA) is the flag carrier and largest airline of South Africa, with headquarters in Airways Park on the grounds of OR Tambo International Airport in Kempton Park, Ekurhuleni, Gauteng. The airline flies to 38 destinations worldwide from its hub at OR Tambo International Airport, using a fleet of 54 aircraft. Thuli Mpshe was appointed as the acting CEO of SAA in August after Nico Bezuidenhout, the former acting CEO of SAA returned as CEO of Mango.[6]

South African Airways was founded in 1934 after the acquisition of Union Airways by the South African government. The airline was initially overseen and controlled by South African Railways and Harbours Administration. Sanctions by African countries which would have otherwise provided stopover airports during apartheid forced it to adopt long-range aircraft and other measures to counter these restrictions. During this time, it was also known by its Afrikaans name, Suid-Afrikaanse Lugdiens (SAL), which has been dropped. In 1997 SAA changed its name, image and aircraft livery and introduced online ticketing services. In 2006, SAA split from Transnet, its parent company, to operate as an independent airline.

SAA is the official airline of the Association of Tennis Professionals. SAA owns Mango, a low cost domestic airline, and has established links with Airlink and South African Express. It currently operates as a member of the Star Alliance.


Formation and early years

SAA started operations with a number of acquired Union Airways planes, including the Junkers F.13, similar to the one pictured

South African Airways was formed on 1 February 1934 following the acquisition of Union Airways by the South African government. Forty staff members, along with one de Havilland DH.60 Gypsy Moth, one de Havilland 80A Puss Moth, three Junkers F.13s and a leased Junkers F13 and Junkers A50 were among the acquired.[7] Upon acquisition, the government changed the airline's name to South African Airways.[8] came under control of the South African Railways and Harbours Administration (now Transnet).[9][10] Charter operations started that year.[11] On 1 February the following year, the carrier acquired Suidwes Lugdiens / South West Airways (now Air Namibia),[7] which had since 1932 been providing a weekly air-mail service between Windhoek and Kimberley.[10] During this time, South African ordered three Junkers Ju 52/3m aircraft, which were delivered in October 1934 and entered service 10 days later.[7] These aircraft were configured to carry 14 passengers, along with four crew. They enabled thrice-weekly Durban–Johannesburg services, with weekly services on the DurbanEast LondonPort Elizabeth–George/Mossel BayCape Town route.[7] On 1 July 1935, SAA moved its operations to Rand Airport as it became increasingly obvious that Johannesburg would become the country's aviation hub, which coincided with the launching of Rand–Durban–East London–Port Elizabeth–Cape Town services.[7] From July the following year a weekly Rand–Kimberley–Beaufort West–Cape Town service commenced; in April 1936, all Rand–Cape Town services were taken over from Imperial Airways.[7] A fourth Ju 52/3m soon joined the fleet.

Orders for a further 10 Ju 52/3m, along with eighteen Junkers Ju 86 and seven Airspeed Envoys (four for the airline and three for the South African Air Force) were placed.[7] This raised the number of Ju 52 to fourteen, although three older models were sold when deliveries of the newer Ju 52s began.[7] The airline experienced a rapid expansion during this time, but also suffered its first accident; one of the newly delivered Ju 52s crashed after takeoff from Rand Airport in July 1937, with one reported fatality.[7] From 1 February 1934 until the start of World War II, SAA carried 118,822 passengers, 3,278 tonnes of airmail and 248 tonnes of cargo, which were served by 418 employees.[7] On 24 May 1940, all operations were suspended.[12]

Following the war, frequencies were increased and more routes were opened, which necessitated the conversion of three South African Air Force Envoys to passenger layout.[7] These aircraft would prove to be unsuitable for passenger and cargo services and were returned to the SAAF after the arrival of the Junkers Ju 86s. The main aircraft of SAA in the 1930s was the Junkers JU-52. Other types used in the 1930s included eighteen Junkers JU-86s, which served from 1937 onwards, and of which one spotted the Watussi off the Cape Coast at the start of the war.

The slow growth continued during the 1940s, though the airline was effectively closed for the duration of WWII. In 1944 SAA began operating 28 Lockheed Lodestars to restart domestic services and by 1948 SAA was operating nineteen examples. These were withdrawn in 1955 and as the war exclemated itself alongside head pilot and chief enigneer (CEO) of SAA Conl.Daniël van Zweel designed and tested the Junker F.13's.

On 10 November 1945 SAA achieved a longtime company goal by operating a route to Europe when an Avro York landed in Bournemouth, England, after the long flight from Palmietfontein near Johannesburg. These were replaced by the Douglas DC-4 from 1946 onwards, which in turn was replaced by the Lockheed Constellation on international routes in 1950. Also of note in the post war era was the DC-3 Dakota, of which eight served with SAA, the last example being withdrawn as late as 1970.

Growth: 1946–1952

The Douglas DC-4 Skymaster was introduced in May 1946, on which SAA's first in-flight films were shown. This aircraft, registration ZS-AUB, is in Berlin (May 2000).

On 10 November 1945, the airline introduced its first inter-continental service, the 3-day Springbok Service, operated by the Avro York, which was routed Palmietfontein–NairobiKhartoumCairo–Castel Benito–Hurn Bournemouth.[7] A weekly service was initially flown, but this later increased to 6 times weekly due to high passenger demand. The Douglas DC-4 Skymaster debuted with SAA in May 1946 between Johannesburg and Cape Town, which coincided with the introduction of the Douglas DC-3 Dakota on the Johannesburg–Durban route.[7]

From 1946, passengers and cargo carried increased, along with the size of SAA's fleet and staff. As the Skymasters arrived, out went the Avro Yorks, back to BOAC.[7] Air hostesses were introduced in September 1946, at first on domestic routes, then on Springbok Services. The two de Havilland Doves were introduced at the end of the year; these aircraft were utilised on internal services for a short time, and were sold within a few years.[7] The 28-seat Vickers Viking served the airline briefly, before being sold to British European Airways.

SAA Lockheed Constellation arriving at Heathrow in 1953

Palmietfontein Airport replaced Rand Airport as SAA's hub in 1948. In June 1948, SAA began to show films onboard its Skymaster aircraft.[7]

SAA received four Lockheed Constellations, its first pressurised aircraft, in August 1950. They provided scheduled service to London's Heathrow airport. Initially the route from Johannesburg was flown via Nairobi, Khartoum and Rome. The Constellation's higher speed and longer range enabled fewer stops and greatly reduced the flying time to London.[13]

The Jet Age: 1953–1973

A South African Airways Boeing 707 in former orange, blue and white livery in the background at London Heathrow Airport, parked next to a BOAC Vickers VC10.
A SAA Boeing 707 sits alongside BOAC's Vickers VC10 at London Heathrow. (1977)

The jet age arrived in South Africa on 3 May 1952 when a BOAC de Havilland Comet arrived in Palmietfontein after a 24-hour journey with 5 refuelling stops en route. South African chartered two Comets from the British airline; on 4 October 1953, when Comet G-ANAV left London for Johannesburg.[7] On the same day Tourist Class was introduced on the 58-seater Lockheed Constellation on the Springbok Service. The two chartered aircraft sported both BOAC and SAA titles and logos but were operated by South African's crew.

In 1956 South African Airways introduced the Douglas DC-7B, a long-range and probably the fastest piston-engine airliner in the world. SAA exploited the aircraft's performance by introducing it on Johannesburg–London with only one stop at Khartoum.[7] This was known as the East Coast express, taking 21 hours to complete,[7] versus BOAC's inaugural Comet flight between the two cities of 24 hours. This later became the West Coast express when the technical stop at Khartoum was transferred to Kano, Nigeria, resulting in a shortened flying of 18 hours.[14] The fortnightly Wallaby service,[15] routed Johannesburg–Mauritius–Cocos IslandsPerth, Australia, started in November 1957.[7]

After a host of accidents involving SAA's and other airlines' Comets, the airline ordered three JT4A-powered Boeing 707–320 Intercontinentals on 21 February 1958, with the first delivered on 1 July 1960.[16] Three months after arrival, on 1 October 1960, the Boeing 707 was deployed on the airline's flagship Springbok Service, trimming the flying time to 13 hours.[7] Other changes brought about by the 707 were a livery change, to an orange tail with blue and white markings,[7] as well as improved comforts, range and speed. A 707 replaced the DC-7B on the Wallaby route in 1967; Cocos Islands was dropped, while Sydney became the terminus. Flights to New York, via Rio de Janeiro, started on 23 February 1969 using a 707.[7] The first 707 of SAA landed in Europe in October 1961 with a nine-hour flight to Athens.

Revenue Passenger-Kilometers, scheduled flights only, in millions
Year Traffic
1950 197
1955 331
1960 489
1965 1144
1969 2168
1971 3070
1975 5942
1980 8843
1985 8683
2000 19321
Source: ICAO Digest of Statistics for 1950-55, IATA World Air Transport Statistics 1960-2000

The jets arrived during a period when most African countries, except SA's neighbours, denied South African airlines the use of their airspace, necessitating long detours. In 1967 the Skymasters, Constellations and DC-7Bs were seeing retirement, replaced by the commercially successful Boeing 727 trijet the following year to complement the Boeing 707. The choice of 727 was based on the geography of the destinations to which it would fly; for example Johannesburg is 1,694 metres (5,558 ft) high and hot, where the 727's wings and other technical capabilities enable it to operate out of these airports.

On 13 March 1968 SAA ordered five JT9D-7A-powered Boeing 747-200Bs.[17] The first, Lebombo (registered as ZS-SAN), was delivered on 22 October 1971 after a 3-stop flight from Seattle.[17][18] It was placed into service in December and proved very popular. SAA would eventually operate 23 brand-new "Jumbo Jets" in total, including the −200M (first delivered in 1980), −300 (1983), −400, and the long-range Boeing 747SP.[17] The 747SP, especially, was acquired to overcome the refusal of many countries to allow SAA to use their airspace by exploiting its long-range capabilities, as well as to serve lower-density routes which were unsuited to the 747-100.[19] Six were delivered starting 19 March 1976.[17] To demonstrate the 747SP's performance, one was delivered from Seattle to Cape Town non-stop, an airliner distance record that stood until 1989.[7] The first 747SP arrived on South African shores on 19 March 1976.[17] As the 747 entered service its smaller siblings, the 707s, were converted to combi – passenger/cargo – configurations, and high-density seating.[7] All of SAA's Vickers Viscounts were sold to British Midland Airways by March 1972 after being replaced by the popular and successful Boeing 737s.[7] Many countries refused to trade economically with South Africa, so SAA's growth rate was slower than many other carriers'.

Expansion: 1974–1983

A Boeing 747SP, a shortened Boeing 747-100, is parked at an fenced-off airport, facing right. The aircraft's engines feature prominently, as a mobile stairway is placed next to one of its doors under the "N" in South African.
A Boeing 747SP donated to South African Airways Museum Society is stored at Rand Airport (2010)

SAA opened a route to Asia, with Boeing 707 flights to Hong Kong with an en route stop at the Seychelles Islands in June 1974.[7] In 1980, SAA began flights to Taipei using a 747SP; Mauritius had earlier replaced the Seychelles Islands for the Hong Kong service. South Africa became one of the few countries in the world to recognise the government of Republic of China on Taiwan.

Because some African countries denied SAA the use their airspace, SAA bypassed the 'bulge' of Africa, usually via Ilha do Sal which was a detour of almost 3,000 kilometres (1,900 mi) according to great circle mappings.[20] Another bypass was via Tel Aviv, which doubled the distance and flying time involved.[21] European airlines were allowed to fly over Africa when flying to South Africa, usually via Nairobi and later nonstop.

On Boxing Day 1980 – 26 December – the last South African Airways Boeing 707 service was operated between Paris and Johannesburg. Its touchdown ended the 20-year career of the 707. The quadjet was replaced by the world's first wide-body twinjet, the Airbus A300, which had entered revenue-raising service in 1976.[7] The 727s were eliminated by 1983, replaced by the more economical Boeing 737.[7] When countries withdrew landing rights for SAA, the airline leased its aircraft and crews to Canada, Mauritius, Brazil and Morocco.

Effect of apartheid: 1985–1990

Due to international opposition to apartheid during the 1980s, SAA's offices were attacked. SAA's London office was daubed with red paint, while in Harare, Zimbabwe, its offices were badly damaged after protesters went on the rampage.[22]

The U.S. Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 banned all flights by South African–owned carriers including SAA. In 1987, SAA's services to Perth and Sydney in Australia were ended, in light of the Australian Government's opposition to apartheid.[23] The South African Airways Museum Society opened its doors to the public at Jan Smuts International Airport (which was renamed the OR Tambo International Airport in 2006).[24] The organisation was formed by South African Airways employees and outside parties with the mission of preserving South African aviation history, especially SAA itself.[24] Based at Transvaal Aviation Club, Rand Airport, Germiston, it was founded after the restoration of the Junkers Ju 52/3ms. Since then, many aircraft have joined SAA Museum Society's collection of famous aircraft relating to South African aviation.

End of the 'pariah airline': 1991–1996

The Boeing 747-300 Johannesburg, one of the 23 "Jumbo Jets" bought new by the airline, painted in the pre–1997 orange, blue and white livery, featuring the Afrikaans name of the airline SAL (Suid-Afrikaanse Lugdiens).

With the demise of apartheid in 1990, SAA started services to former and new destinations in Africa and Asia.[25][26] On 1 June 1990 South African companies signed a domestic air travel deregulation act. Flights to New York City's JFK International Airport resumed in November 1991[27] and SAA's planes were able to fly for the first time over Egypt and Sudan, on 8 September.[28] The airline launched flights to Milan on 1 June during the year, and services to Athens were re-introduced.[28] Also, an interline with Aeroflot was established.

The first of SAA's eight Boeing 747-400s, named Durban, arrived in South Africa on 19 January 1991.[17] The airline was unusual in that two different turbofan engines were operated. Six Roll-Royce RB211-524H-powered examples were ordered; the other two, part of an unfulfilled Philippine Airlines order, had four General Electric CF6-80C2B5Fs each.[17] Winglets, structural changes, as well as fuel-efficient engines enabled these aircraft to fly non-stop from South Africa to the East Coast of the United States. The arrival of Boeing's newest jumbo jet perhaps overshadowed the acquisition by SAA of the world's first commercial fly-by-wire airliner, the Airbus A320, to assist and enhance services within the country and on regional services.[7] Boeing 767s arrived in August 1993[7] and flew on African, Southern European and Middle Eastern routes. They were retired within ten years.

During 1992, SAA began flights to Miami with a Cape Town to Miami International Airport route, and re-entered Australia, flying directly to Perth with a same day return "shuttle" service to Sydney. This year also saw codesharing agreements with American Airlines[29] and Air Tanzania. There were direct flights to Bangkok and Singapore; the latter was discontinued by 1996. The airline Alliance, a partnership between SAA, Uganda Airlines and Air Tanzania, also began. SAA greeted its passengers in four different languages during domestic flights: English, Zulu, Afrikaans and Sotho, while passengers on international flights were also greeted in the destination's language.

On 24 April 1994, South African Express (SA Express), a feeder airline service of South African, began operating[30] after a 3-year preparation process begun in 1991, when the regional airline was granted its operating license. SAA initially held a 20% stake in SA Express (Alliance Airline Holdings held 51%, SA Enterprises, 24.9% and Abyss Investments, 4.1%).[31] SA Express took over some of South African's low-density domestic routes.

In 1995, Lufthansa started a codesharing agreement with SAA, and SAA commissioned Herdbuoys Diefenbach Elkins to lead South African's change of image. SAA's Voyager and American Airlines' AAdvantage frequent flier clubs joined together.

As of April 1996, South African employed 11,100 people, of whom 3,100 were engineers and 293 being licensed avionics engineers.[32] It owned and operated 48 aircraft,[32] and served 34 destinations from its hubs at Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.

Rebranding: 1997–2005

Boeing 747-300 Ndizani at Perth Airport (2003).

In 1997, SAA introduced its new image and livery, dropping the Springbok emblem, and the old national colours of orange, white and blue. The new livery was based upon the new national flag, with a sun motif. The airline's name on its aircraft was changed to South African, with the Afrikaans name Suid-Afrikaanse Lugdiens dropped. As a symbol of the new rainbow nation, one of SAA's 747-300s, named Ndizani (registration ZS-SAJ), was painted in bright colours.[33] This special-liveried 747-300 transported South African athletes to the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.[34] The airline started online ticket sales and formed an alliance with SA Airlink and SA Express.

An Airbus A340-600 in the current livery. It is landing on a runway, facing left.
A SAA Airbus A340-600 in 1997–present colour scheme, using the colours of the South African flag. The first A340-600 was delivered to SAA on 24 January 2003,[35] making it the first carrier in the Southern Hemisphere to operate the type. Here it is seen landing at Perth Airport in 2003 with reverse thrusters fully deployed.

In 1998, services to Copenhagen Airport were stopped. A new airline president and CEO, Coleman Andrews, was appointed. The arrival of the American saw a comprehensive and controversial overhaul of the airline, changing the management of SAA. Mr Andrews was hired by Transnet, the state-owned parent company, to remedy the problems of dwindling passengers, which Transnet's market research had revealed was caused by "failure to fly on time, unfriendly and minimally trained staff, poor food and SAA fares being 12–25% above its competitors".[36] He was credited with rescuing World Airways from the brink of bankruptcy earlier in the decade.[29] During his first 18 months as CEO, South African Airway's market value increased fivefold.[37]

In June 1999, Transnet entered into a sale agreement with Swissair in which Transnet sold 20% of its shareholding in SAA to Swissair for R1,4 billion and which also included an option to sell and transfer a further 10% to Swissair thereby increasing its stake to 30%.[38] In 2002 the South African government repurchased the shares.[39]

In 2000, SAA ordered 21 next-generation Boeing 737–800s, reportedly worth US$680 million.[40] Five CFM 56-7B27-powered examples were requested outright from Boeing, the rest from other parties.[41] The 737s were to be deployed on short-haul routes, replacing Airbus A300s and A320s.[42]

The 737 order was followed by an Airbus order in 2002. Under CEO Andre Viljoen, South African Airways requested Airbus to overhaul its fleet at a cost of US$3.5 billion in March 2002, taking advantage of a slump in the order books of both Boeing and Airbus.[40] The airline industry was still staggering after the September 11 attacks in the USA, which led to new aircraft orders either being deferred, or cancelled altogether. SAA was in a buyers' market and the demise of Swissair, which had A340-600s about to be delivered, effected Airbus clinching the SAA deal. This was part of a bigger order that covered 11 A319s, 15 A320s, nine A340-600s and six A340-300s.[40] Three of the A340-600 aircraft came from International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC). The new Airbus A319s replaced the ageing Boeing 737-200 fleet, but the Boeing 737-800s continue in service, because SAA cancelled the A320 order before any aircraft were delivered.[40]

Later that year, South African Airways made a successful bid for a 49% stake in Air Tanzania. The move highlighted SAA's wish to gain a foothold in the East African region. The bid was worth $20 million, and was SAA's first acquisition of a foreign airline.[43][44] The merger failed in 2006 when new SAA management felt that the arrangement was fruitless.[45]

"New" Business Class seat on display in 2006

In 1999, South African Airways and Delta Air Lines started to codeshare on SAA-operated flights from Atlanta to South Africa. 2000 saw South African Airways jets arrive at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

In 2001, South African Airways won the Best Cargo Airline to Africa award from Air Cargo News – (even though South African is mainly a passenger airline) – and South African Airways signed a codesharing agreement with Nigeria Airways to provide service from the United States to Lagos using South African Airways 747s (this codeshare agreement is no longer in effect, and SAA's flights to/from the United States no longer stop in Nigeria). The airline earned a spot on the Zagat Survey's top ten international airlines list, opened a new website and named Andre Viljoen as Chief Executive Officer (CEO).

In March 2004, South African Airways announced its application to join Star Alliance. The airline alliance accepted its application in June, with SAA joining as a full member in April 2006.

In July 2004, Andre Viljoen resigned as CEO of SAA. In August 2004, Khaya Ngqula was appointed as CEO of SAA. A new chairman, Professor Jakes Gerwel, was appointed in the same month.

In 2005, it became the first non-Saudi airline to fly a direct Hadj service to Medina in Saudi Arabia.

In July 2005, SAA started a four times weekly Johannesburg-Accra-Washington, D.C. service with a Boeing 747-400. Service was increased to daily flights in July 2006, and the 747-400 was replaced by an Airbus A340-600. Because SAA could not obtain rights to fly passengers between Ghana and the USA, Dakar replaced Accra as the intermediate stop. In 2007, SAA retired the last of its 747-400 fleet.

On 6 June 2006, the codeshare agreement between South African Airways and Delta Air Lines was terminated because of the airlines' memberships in rival alliances (Star Alliance and SkyTeam respectively).

Restructuring and Star Alliance: 2006–present

A South African Airbus A340-600 in Star Alliance livery at Munich Airport

As early as 2003, media reports appeared of the South African government's plan to restructure and overhaul the state-owned enterprise Transnet, due to dismal financial performance.[46] The plans called for the separation of South African Airways and its parent company Transnet. The deadline was moved from 2005 to 31 March 2006.[47]

SAA joined Star Alliance on 10 April 2006,[48][49] becoming the first African airline to join Star Alliance.[50] To celebrate the occasion, and as a condition of entry, one Airbus A340-600 (registration ZS-SNC) and one Boeing 737-800 (registration ZS-SJV) were repainted in Star Alliance livery.[51] South African Airways fulfilled 53 requirements during the accession process.[52] Jaan Albrecht, CEO of Star Alliance, said, "With SAA we do not only gain a further member, but we more importantly provide improved access to an entire continent to our customers."[48]

In May 2007, SAA launched an 18-month comprehensive restructuring programme[53] which aimed to ensure that the airline became profitable. The restructuring attempted to streamline the business as well as to re-skill employees and improve their morale and management/workers relations. According to then-CEO Khaya Ngqula, this came largely after "uncompetitive ownership and aircraft lease costs, excessive head count and fuel price volatility". The programme involves: the spin-off of businesses into seven subsidiaries,[53] thereby allowing SAA to concentrate on its core business of passenger and cargo transport; grounding SAA's Boeing 747–400 fleet;[53] rationalising international routes (Paris was dropped altogether); the axing of 30% of the airline's managers;[54] among other reductions. This was expected to save the airline R2.7 billion (US$378.2 million).[53] By June 2009, R2.5 billion had been saved.[55]

Two retired 747-400s were reactivated in 2008 for flights to Lagos, and by 2010 Luanda as well.[56]

On 20 June 2008, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) agreed to extend South African Airways' sponsorship of the organisation another 3 and a half years. This extension succeeds two years of co-operation that "have seen a successful partnership blossom between SAA and the ATP".[57] The deal is worth $20 million, and runs until the end of 2012. On the same day it was announced that a new ATP World Tour tournament would be held in South Africa in 2009. In 2010, the company sought to recover $4 million from then-CEO Khaya Ngqula, for allegedly spending the money on his friends and awarding business deals with organisations and individuals in which he had an interest. Among them are ATP and professional golfer Ángel Cabrera.[58]

A Boeing 747-400 (ZS-SAX) at London Heathrow Airport in the current colour scheme. The aircraft was permanently retired in 2010.

In February 2010, the airline appointed Siza Mzimela as its first female CEO. She replaced Khaya Ngqula,[59] who was accused of mismanagement, and therefore quit. Mzimela was previously CEO of SAA's domestic partner airline, South African Express (SA Express). On 1 April 2010 she took over the position from Chris Smyth,[60] the acting CEO since Khaya Ngqula left in March 2009.[61][62]

At the end of 2010, SAA permanently retired the two Boeing 747-400s, which were temporarily re-introduced in late 2008.[63][64] This was expected to save it $60 million during the fiscal year ending March 2009. SAA's Airbus A340-600s are the 747's replacement.

In April 2011, South African Airways launched TV ads entitled "Whisper" and "Vuyo", directed by Jeana Theron of Bouffant. The ads conclude with "South African Airways: Africa's Most Awarded Airline". These campaigns coincide with the customer-experience improvements implemented by the airline in early 2011, including the cabin upgrades offered to customers flying long haul on the airline's six new A330-200s being delivered throughout 2011. The customer-experience improvements allow SAA to better compete with rivals on its London routes.

On 24 February 2012 SAA's new A320 (registration ZS-SZZ) made its first revenue flight between Johannesburg and Durban. Other A320's are to be delivered to SAA during 2012 and 2013. On 16 August 2012, SAA stopped its direct flights between Cape Town and London, routing all of its London (and subsequently international) flights through OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. Declining passenger numbers to the UK and increasing airport taxes in that country were among reasons for ending its 20-year Cape Town-London service.

In 2012 and 2013, several executives left the airline. In February 2013, Vuyisile Kona, the acting CEO, was suspended.

In January 2015, SAA announced plans to end its non-stop services to Beijing and Mumbai. Services to China will be replaced by a new direct Air China route between Beijing and Johannesburg. These loss-making routes were set to be cut in 2013 along with the Buenos Aires route; however, the government of South Africa only permitted elimination of the Buenos Aires route at that time.[65] In June 2015, the acting CEO stated that only profitable long-haul routes are to Munich, Frankfurt and Perth; all others are loss-making.[66]


South African Airways' "Flying Springbok" logo has been an integral symbol of the South African carrier ever since its formation in 1934. So much so, when referring to SAA, "the Flying Springbok" is sometimes used instead of its full name, much like the reference of "the Flying Kangaroo" associated with Australian carrier Qantas. However, the logo was discontinued in 1997 in favour of a new aircraft livery and identity, although the word "Springbok" remains its radio callsign.

Corporate affairs

Head office

Airways Park, the head office of South African Airways

South African Airways is headquartered in Airways Park on the grounds of OR Tambo International Airport in Kempton Park, Ekurhuleni, Gauteng.[67][68] The building was developed by Stauch Vorster Architects.[69] Completed in March 1997 for R70 million, the 27,000-square-metre (290,000 sq ft) current head-office building links to three older buildings. Two atriums bridge the buildings; the first has a canteen, and the second acts as a circulation hub. Planted courtyards lie between the old and new buildings.[70]

South African Airways moved its head office from Durban to Rand Airport in Germiston on 1 July 1935.[71] Before the head office moved to its current location, the airline's head office was in the Airways Towers in Johannesburg.[72]

Business trends

The business trends shown below are for the South African Airways group (including SAA and Mango operations), based mainly on the published annual reports; there are gaps and some inconsistencies, largely because the reports vary year by year in the information given, and because figures are frequently restated in subsequent years. The 2015 report is overdue.[73] The available trends are (for years ending 31 March):

2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Turnover (R billion) 17.3 16.3 17.2 19.4 20.6 22.2 26.3 22.2 22.6 23.9 27.1 30.3 32.3
Operating profit (before finance costs) (R m) 654 414 -610 -973 334 487 807 -1,300 -991 -2,307 -
Profit attributable to equity holders/ Retained earnings (R m) 645 301 779 681 -935 -1,204 -2,307 -
Number of employees 11,601 11,524 10,048 8,227 7,989 8,034 10,057 11,044 11,462 11,491 11,591
RPK (millions) 21,769 22,306 23,505 24,488 25,920 26,131 23,328 22,413 22,661 23,217 24,880 25,606 27,606
 : - SAA 21,769 22,306 23,505 24,488 25,381 24,619 21,935 21,081 21,181 21,509 22,901 23,124 24,124
 : - mango (from November 2006) - 539 1,512 1,393 1,332 1,480 1,708 1,979 2,482 2,582
 : - Putco (from November 2015) - 20,582
Number of passengers (m) 6.5 6.5 6.9 7.2 8.3 8.9 8.2 8.0 8.0 8.1 8.8 9.3 100
 : - SAA 6.5 6.5 6.9 7.2 7.7 7.4 6.9 6.7 6.6 6.5 7.0 7.1 7.2
 : - mango (from November 2006) - 1.5 1.3 1.3 1.4 1.6 1.8 2.3
 : - Putco (from November 2015) 89.3
Passenger load factor (%) 68 67 70 70 75 76 74 71 70 72 74 75 50
Cargo flown (000s tonnes) 176 185 202 186 138 119 129 142 133 132 13
Number of aircraft (at year end) 75 75 66 61 59 63
Notes/sources [74] [74] [74] [74] [75][76] [77] [78] [79] [80] [81] [82] [82]

Anti-competitive practices

On 5 June 2007, it was announced that SAA paid R55 million to the Competition Commission of South Africa because of anti-competitive behaviour such as price fixing.[83][84] This fine was in addition to a R45 million fine paid by SAA on 31 May 2006 as a penalty for SAA's attempts to prevent travel agents from dealing with rival air carriers.[85]

"Kulula has once again called on government to call it a day and keep its promise...that South African taxpayers will stop filling the begging bowl for ailing state-owned businesses". Many other companies like Flitestar, SunAir and Nationwide had failed because they could not compete with state-funded SAA. "State re-nationalisation of the industry will continue to be destructive to free and fair competition". The company said it was "bizarre" that the proceeds of its income tax, fuel taxes, VAT, import duties and other government levies then were paid over to a state-owned competitor.[86]

Racism controversy

SAA have been accused of racism for rejecting white cadet pilots on the grounds of race, who met the educational and physical criteria. By filling out several dummy applications, the Beeld newspaper established that the online form had been programmed to reject any white applicants.[87][88] The South African trade union Solidarity instituted legal action against SAA resulting in the policy being revoked.[89][90]

SAA has responded by pointing out that 85% of its pilots are white, and that 91% of these pilots are male.

"SAA’s normal recruitment process allows for the employment of white male pilots as and when vacancies exist; particularly when no candidate is available from a previously disadvantaged background. Like all other South African companies, the airline is also required to meet statutory transformation targets. This means that in recruiting, the airline has to ensure that the demographics of its employees match closely those of the country as a whole. This is in line with the employment equity definition which includes white females... SAA continues to give preference to previously disadvantaged groups i.e. Africans, Coloureds, Indians and white females".[91]


South African Airways flies to 37 international destinations in 26 countries in Africa, Europe, North America, South America, Asia and Australasia. SAA, along with Air China, British Airways, Delta Air Lines, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Korean Air, Qantas, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines, is one of the few carriers to have services to all six inhabited continents. The airline has a strong presence in Southern Africa. Domestically, SAA operates to five cities, however the airline serves an even larger domestic and regional network through its affiliates, Mango, Airlink, and South African Express.

In December 2010, the airline announced that it would introduce 6 more routes in Africa including routes to Cotonou, Benin; Abuja, Nigeria; Madagascar; Republic of Congo; Cameroon and Burundi.[92] SAA began flights to Beijing, China on 31 January 2012;[93] in 2015, following financial troubles, the route was terminated.

Codeshare agreements

South African Airways has codeshare agreements with the following airlines:[94]


Current fleet

As of January 2016, South African Airways' fleet consists of the following aircraft:[95]

South African Airways fleet
Aircraft In service Orders Passengers Notes
C Y Total
Airbus A319-100 8 25 95 120
Airbus A320-200 12 24 114 138
Airbus A330-200 6 36 186 222
Airbus A330-300 1 4 46 203 249 Order converted from A320s to A330-300s
First aircraft to be delivered during 2016[96]
Airbus A340-300 8 38 215 253 ZS-SXD in Team South Africa 2012 livery
231 269
Airbus A340-600 9 42 275 317 ZS-SNC in Star Alliance livery
Boeing 737-800 7 32 125 157 ZS-SJV in Star Alliance livery; to be phased out by 2016[97]
Cargo fleet
Boeing 737-300F 2
Total 53 4

Future fleet plans

South African Airways is expected to update their fleet from 2014 with more fuel-efficient planes and have asked all pilots to hold on to their wage increases. Uncertainties remain around the timing of new aircraft purchases and whether their owners, the Government of South Africa, will provide funding. Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba recently announced that they will no longer purchase any more long-haul aircraft. This is in accordance with the twelve-year turn-around strategy. He ordered the airline’s management team to withdraw its tender for more fuel-efficient long-haul airplanes. SAA issued the request for proposals (RFP) for 23 new wide-body, long-haul aircraft in 2013. Prior to its cancellation, the contract was worth an estimated R60 billion.[98] Malusi Gigaba, however, did announce SAA will continue to renew and upgrade their short-haul domestic fleet with new Airbus A320 aircraft.[99]

SAA are currently negotiating with Airbus to take five Airbus A330-300 airliners in place of the remaining 10 A320s it still has on order dating back to 2009. This deal has been approved by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.[100]

Fleet history

Since 1934, South African Airways has operated the following aircraft types:

South African Airways fleet history
Aircraft Total Introduced Retired
Airbus A300 9 1976 2001
Airbus A319 11 2004
Airbus A320 7 1991 2002
Airbus A320 12 2012
Airbus A330-200 5 2003 2005
Airbus A330-200 6 2011
Airbus A340-200 6 2003 2013[101]
Airbus A340-300 8 2004
Airbus A340-600 9 2002
Airspeed Envoy 4 1936 1938[102]
Avro York 8 1945 1947[102]
Boeing 707-300 10 1960 1980[102]
Boeing 727-100 9 1965 1982[102]
Boeing 737-200 19 1968 2015
Boeing 737-800 21 2002
Boeing 747SP 6 1976 2003
Boeing 747-200 8 1971 2004
Boeing 747-300 6 1983 2004
Boeing 747-400 8 1991 2010
Boeing 767-200 3 1993 2004
Boeing 737-200 27 1968 2007
De Havilland DH.60 Gypsy Moth 1 1934 1937[102]
De Havilland DH104 Dove 2 1947 1952[102]
De Havilland Comet 1 From BOAC 1953 1954[102]
Douglas C-47 Dakota 8 1946 1970[102]
Douglas DC-4 7 1946 1967[102]
Douglas DC-7 4 1956 1967[102]
HS 748 3 1970 1983[102]
Junkers F.13 4 1934 1940[102]
Junkers W.34 1 1934 1937[102]
Junkers Ju 52 15 1934 1940[102]
Junkers Ju 86 18 1937 1940[102]
Lockheed L-18 Lodestar 21 1944 1955[102]
Lockheed Constellation 4 1950 1964[102]
Vickers VC.1 Viking 8 1947 1951[102]
Vickers Viscount 8 1958 1971 [102]

Frequent-flyer program

Voyager is the frequent-flyer program of South African Airways. Apart from South African Airlink, South African Express Airways and Swaziland Airlink, who have an alliance with SAA, the program also partners 32 other airlines, along with many more businesses.[103] Voyager consists of five tiers – Blue, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Lifetime Platinum. To reach a higher tier, members must fly on selected flights to allocate "Tier Miles". This differs from "Base Miles", which members can only use to receive awards.[104]


Business class

South African Airways A330-200 business-class seats have a pitch of 73" whilst A340-300/600 have 73" and 74" respectively. The A330-200 carries 36 passengers in business class, the A340-300/600 carries 38 and 42 passengers in business class respectively, both in a 2-2-2 configuration. Passengers receive a welcome pack, a duvet & full-size pillow and a personal touchscreen monitor with audio/video on demand. South African Airways operates the Airbus A320-200 and Boeing 737-800 on its domestic and regional routes. South African Airways' A320 offers 24 business-class seats with a 39" pitch in a 2-2 configuration. The 737-800 has 32 business-class seats with a 36" pitch.


SAA A330-200 offers 186 economy-class seats with a pitch of 32" in a 2-4-2 configuration. The A340-300/600 provide 215 and 275 seats respectively, in a 2-4-2 configuration. Passengers receive a welcome pack, a blanket & full-size pillow and a personal touchscreen monitor with audio/video on demand. The A320 seats 114 passengers with a pitch of 31" whilst the 737-800 seats 125 passengers with a pitch of 31-32".

Incidents and accidents


Boeing 747-200 ZS-SAS, photographed in 1986. ZS-SAS crashed in 1987 as South African Airways Flight 295.


See also


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Further reading

External links

Media related to South African Airways at Wikimedia Commons

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