SAA will not resume flights to London

Posted by Taylah Strauss on 22 October 2021

National carrier South African Airways (SAA) has elected not to resume normal operations to the UK. According to The South African, the removal of South Africa from the United Kingdom’s red list has resulted in a spike in the demand for flights between the two countries.

In 2019, more than 400 000 people from the UK were travelling to South Africa, making it the top source for South Africa’s tourism industry. During this period and prior to the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic SAA’s normal operations included daily flights between London and Johannesburg at an exponential rate.

The current rapid increase for flights between the two countries was thought to have been the ideal location for SAA to situate its restart. However, Chief Commercial Officer of the SAA Simon Newton-Smith stated, in an interview with Biznews founder Alec Hogg, that restarting normal operations are not as easy as it seems. ‘You know, restarting an airline is tough. Doing it in the middle of Covid-19, where your markets are generally down anywhere between 50% and 70%, adds an extra layer of complexity to the mix.’

When asked why SAA has opted to do domestic flights and not long flights, Smith said that he took a page out of the ‘Covid-19 playbook’ and predicted that the quickest route to the resumption of normal operations would be to start with domestic flights and expand from there.

Smith also acknowledged the recent spike in flights following SA’s removal from the UK’s red list: ‘What has happened in the UK with the removal from the red list in the last week is undoubtedly going to create a surge in short-term demand, but we shouldn’t confuse the short-term surge with the underlying trends, and all of the indicators are that it’s going to be well into 2022, if not 2023, before we see any global normalising of leisure long-haul travel demand. So we’ve got to be really careful.’

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have already taken advantage of this increase in demand and resumed normal operations to Johannesburg and Cape Town. Smith was asked why SAA would not follow their suit, to which he stated: ‘We could jump on that bandwagon. We’ve got aircrafts that can fly to London. We still have the slots and still have the licences. We could do it but it would not be the most prudent thing to do for the longer-term.’

Furthermore, Smith asserted that the economic conditions which underscore the trends in flights needed to stabilise before normal operations could resume. He went on to assuage certain fears regarding the restart of the SAA and said that there is a strategic plan in place, with the primary goal being to restore daily flights, and then double them.

Picture: Wikimedia Commons


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