South African Airways

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South African Airways
South African Logo.svg
IATA ICAO Callsign
HubsOR Tambo International Airport
Focus citiesCape Town International Airport
Frequent-flyer programVoyager
AllianceStar Alliance
Fleet size61 (+24 orders)
Parent companyGovernment of South Africa
HeadquartersOR Tambo International Airport
Kempton Park, Ekurhuleni, Gauteng, South Africa
Key people
RevenueDecreaseR21,185 million (2009/10 FY)[1]:36
Operating incomeIncreaseR636 million (2009/10 FY)[1]:36
ProfitIncreaseR697 million (2009/10 FY)[1]:36
Total assetsDecreaseR14,044 million (2009/10 FY)[1]:37

South African Airways (SAA) is the national flag carrier and largest airline of Republic 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 36 destinations worldwide from its hub at OR Tambo International Airport, using a fleet of 59 aircraft. The airline is headed by CEO Siza Mzimela and CFO Kaushik Patel.

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. It suffered imposed sanctions by Africa countries during apartheid, which 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 a major overhaul programme, which involved changing of name, image and aircraft livery, as well as the introduction of online ticketing services, was carried out by the company's board. The carrier has since joined airline alliance Star Alliance, and replaced its fleet with newer aircraft. In 2006, SAA split from Transnet, its parent company, to operate as an independent airline.

SAA is ranked as a 4-star airline by the independent research consultancy firm Skytrax.[5] It is the official airline of the Association of Tennis Professionals. SAA owns Mango, a domestic airline, and has established links with Airlink and South African Express.


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.[6] Upon acquisition, the government changed the airline's name to South African Airways.[7] The newly-established identity came under control of the South African Railways and Harbours Administration (now Transnet).[8][9] Charter operations started that year.[10] On 1 February the following year, the carrier acquired South West African Airways,[6] which had since 1932 been providing a weekly air-mail service between Windhoek and Kimberley.[9] During this time, South African ordered three Junkers Ju 52/3m aircraft, which were delivered in October 1934 and entered service 10 days later.[6] These aircraft were configured to carry 14 passengers, along with four crew. They enabled services thrice-weekly Durban–Johannesburg, with weekly services on the DurbanEast LondonPort Elizabeth–George/Mossel BayCape Town route.[6] 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.[6] From July the following year a weekly Rand–Kimberley–Beaufort West–Cape Town service commenced; in April A936, all Rand–Cape Town services were taken over from Imperial Airways.[6] A fourth Ju 52/3m shortly joined the fleet.

Orders for a further 10 Ju 52m, along with eighteen Junkers Ju 86 and seven Airspeed Envoys (four for the airline and three for the South Africa's air force) were placed.[6] This raised the number of Ju 52 to fourteen, although three older models were sold when deliveries of the newer Ju 52s began.[6] 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 a one reported fatality.[6] 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.[6] On 24 May 1940, all operations were suspended,[11] and aircraft were transferred to the air force for troop-carrying and bombing purposes.

Following the war, frequencies were increased and more routes were opened, which necessitated the conversion of three SAAF Envoys to passenger layout.[6] These aircraft would prove to be unsuitable for passenger and cargo services, so were returned to the SAAF after the arrival of the Junkers Ju 86s.

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 interncontinental service, the 3-day Springbok Service, which was routed Palmietfontein–NairobiKhartoumCairo–Castel Benito–Hurn Bournemouth.[6] A weekly service was initially flown, but this later increased to 6 times weekly due to high demands. The Douglas DC-4 Skymaster debutted 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.[6]

From 1946, a spike in passengers and cargo carried were experienced, along with the SAA's fleet, with the corresponding increase in staff. As the Skymasters arrived, out went the Avro Yorks back to BOAC.[6] Air hostess were introduced in September 1946, at first in on domestic routes, then on Springbok Services. The two de Havilland Doves were introduced at the endof the year; these aircraft saw services for a short time, and were sold within a few years.[6] The 28-seater Vickers Viking also served the airline, albeit for a short period, before being sold to British European Airways.

Palmietfontein Airport became SAA's hub after taking over from Rand Airport in 1948. This was among a host of changes made by the airline regarding its operations and services during the year; the other notable improvement was the showing of films onboard its Skymaster aircraft in June.[6]

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. Both are facing left and are serviced by ground handling vehicles. On the foreground are buildings of the airport.
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 consequently chartered two examples from the British airline; SAA made history by becoming the first airline outside the U.K. on 4 October 1953, when Comet G-ANAV operated from London to Johannesburg.[6] On the same day, Tourist Class were introduced on the 58-seater Lockheed Constellation on the Springbok Service. The two chartered aircraft sport both of BOAC's and SAA's titles and logos, but were operated by South African's crew.

Going against the trend at the time of the transformations to jet operations, South African Airways, in 1956, introduced the Douglas DC-7B. The DC-7 was among the fastest piston-engine airliner in the world, and had a decent range. SAA fully exploited the aircraft's performance by introducing it on the Johannesburg–London, but with only one stop at Khartoum.[6] This was known as the East Coast express, taking 21 hours to complete,[6] 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 tranferred to Kano, Nigeria, resulting in a shortened flying of 18 hours. Inauguration of the Wallaby service,[12] routed JohannesburgMauritiusCocos IslandsPerth, Australia, took place in November 1957, which as served fortnightly.[6]

After a host of accidents involving SAA's and other airlines' Comets, the airline placed order for three J57-powered Boeing 707-320 Intercontinentals on 21 February 1958, with the first of three delivered on 1 July 1960.[13] Three months after arrival, on 1 October 1960, the Boeing 707 was deployed on the airline's flagship Springbok Service, trimming the flying time down to 13 hours.[6] Other changes brought about by the 707 was a livery change, which now has an orange tail with a blue and white markings,[6] as well as improved comforts, range and speed. It also replaced the DC-7 on the Wallaby route; Cocos Islands was dropped, while Sydney became the terminus. Flights to New York, via Rio de Janeiro, inaugurated on 23 February 1969 using a 707.[6] The first 707 of SAA landed in Europe in October 1961 with a nine-hour flight to Athens.

The arrival of these jets matches a period where most African countries, except SA's neighbours, denied South African airlines the right to use their airspace, forcing the carriers to fly longer 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. (for further information, please see Hot and high)

On 13 March 1968, SAA placed an order for five JT9D-7R4G2-powered Boeing 747-200Bs.[14] The first one of these, Lebombo (registered as ZS-SAN), were delivered on 22 October 1971 after a 3-stop delivery flight from Seattle.[14][15] It was placed into service in December, and proved very popular with passengers. SAA would eventually order and operate 23 brand-new "Jumbo Jets" in total, including the -200M (first delivered in 1980), -300 (1983), -400, and the long-range 747SP.[14] The 747SP, especially, was acquired to overcome the refusal of many countries prohibiting SAA from using their airspace by fully exploiting its long-range capabilities, as well as to serve lower-density routes which were unsuited to the 747-100[16] six examples were delivered starting from 19 March 1976.[14] To demonstrate the 747SP's performance, a delivery flight was carried out during which an example flew from Seattle to Cape Town non-stop.[6] The first 747SP arrived on South African shores on 19 March 1976.[14] As the 747s entered service, its smaller siblings, the 707s, were converted to combi – passenger/cargo – configurations, and high-density seatings to suit a different route structure.[6] 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.[6]

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)

A major development for the airline during the 1970s was the opening of a route to Asia, with Boeing 707 flights to Hong Kong in June 1974, with an en route stop as Seychelles Islands.[6] In 1980, when SAA began flights to Taipei using a 747SP, by which time Seychelles Islands was replaced in favour of Mauritius for the Hong Kong service. South Africa became one of the few countries in the world to recognise the government of Republic of China in Taiwan.

On Boxing Day 1980 – 26 December – the last South African Airways Boeing 707 service was operated between Paris and Johannesburg. Upon touchdown, a chapter in SAA's history was closed, bringing the 20-year career of the 707 to an end. The quadjet was replaced by the world's first wide-body twinjet, the Airbus A300, which had entered revenue-raising service in 1976.[6] Likewise, the 727 were all phased out by 1983, with the replacement being the more economical Boeing 737.[6] As a number of countries withdrew landing rights for SAA, however, the airline leased its aircraft to Canada, Mauritius, Brazil and Morocco, along with its crew.

Effect of apartheid: 1985–1990

Due to international condemnation of the apartheid regime during the 1980s, SAA itself faced hostility, with its offices being 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.

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 Australia's opposition to apartheid.[17] There were other upbeat events however; 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).[18] The organisation was formed by South African Airways employees and outside parties with the mission of preserving South African aviation history, especially SAA itself.[18] 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 been added to SAA Museum Society's collection of famous aircraft relating to South Africa's aviation industry.

End of the 'pariah airline': 1991–1996

A SAL Boeing 747-300 Johannesburg, one of the 23 "Jumbo Jets" bought new by the airline. The 1970s–1997 livery features orange, blue and white.

With the demise of apartheid, beginning in 1990, SAA was able to shake off its pariah image, restoring services to former destinations, introducing services to new ones and expanding into the rest of Africa, and into Asia.[19][20] 1 June 1990 was an important day for SAA, as South African companies signed a domestic air travel deregulation act. Later that year, SAA was chosen as the Best Airline to Africa by London magazine Executive Travel[citation needed]. Flights to New York's JFK International Airport resumed in November 1991 after the United States imposed economic sanctions on South Africa in 1986,[21] and South African's planes were able to fly for the first time over Egypt and Sudan, on 8 September.[22] The airline launched flights to Milan on 1 June during the year, and services to Athens were re-introduced.[22] 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.[14] The airline was unusual in that two different turbofan engines were selected. Six Roll-Royce RB211-524H-powered examples were ordered; the other two were had four General Electric CF6-80C2B5Fs each.[14] With 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 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.[6] Also arrived were the wide-body Boeing 767s, in August 1993,[6] which SAA deployed on African, Southern European and Middle Eastern routes. They would be phased out within ten years.

During 1992, South African entered the Miami market (from Cape Town) by flying into Miami International Airport, and re-entered Australia. This year also saw codesharing agreements with American Airlines[23] and Air Tanzania. Direct flights to Southeast Asia including Bangkok and Singapore; the later was discontinued by 1996. The following year, SAA began services to Manchester and Hamburg, and a codesharing agreement was reached with Brazil's Varig[citation needed]. It also saw the birth of the airline Alliance, which was a partnership between SAA, Uganda Airlines and Air Tanzania. Also South African 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 local language. Nevertheless, this "Alliance" withered against intense competition from Kenya Airways (and affiliated Precision Air). The Tanzanian government is subsidising Air Tanzania while it disentangles the relationship with SAA.

On 24 April 1994, South African Express (SA Express), a feeder airline service of South African, began operating.[24] This came after a 3-year preparation process since 1991, when the regional airline was granted its operating license. SAA initially held a 20% stake in the SA Express – the other three shareholders were Alliance Airline Holdings (51%), SA Enterprises (24.9%) and Abyss Investments (4.1%).[25] SA Express took over some of South African's low-density domestic routes.

As of April 1996, South African employed 11,100 people, of whom 3,100 were engineers and 293 being lincensed avionics engineers.[26] It owned and operated 48 aircraft,[26] and served 34 destinations from its main hubs at Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.

Rebranding: 1997–2005

In the midground is an Airbus A340-600 in the current rainbow livery on cloudless day. It is being pulled by a ground handling vehicle on the apron, facing left.
A SAA Airbus A340-600 in 1997–present colour scheme, which adorns the rainbow colour of the South African flag. The first A340-600 came under the possession of SAA on 24 January 2003,[27] making it the first carrier in the Southern Hemisphere to operate the aircraft.

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. 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. Now that Ndizani has been withdrawn from service, there have been calls to paint another SAA aircraft in these striking colours. This special-liveried 747-300 helped transported South African Olympic athletes to Atlanta for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.[28] The airline started online ticket sales and formed an alliance with SA Airlink and SA Express.

In 1998, services to Buenos Aires and São Paulo's Guarulhos Airport were restored[citation needed], while stopped were services to Copenhagen Airport. A new airline president and CEO, Coleman Andrews,[29] was appointed; the arrival of the American saw a very comprehensive and somewhat controversial overhaul of the airline, changing the management of SAA. Mr Andrews was brought in by Transnet,[30] the state-owned parent company, to remedy the problems of dwindling passengers, which Transnet's own 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". He was creditted with rescueing World Airways from the brink of bankruptcy and earlier in the decade.[23] During his first 18 months (out of 3 year) as CEO, South African Airway's market value increased fivefold.[31] This era at SAA is covered in the book Jetlag, SA Airways in the Andrews Era by South African journalist Denis Burkett.

In 2000, SAA placed order for 21 next-generation Boeing 737-800s, reportedly worth US$680 million.[32] Among the 21, five CFM 56-7B27-powered examples were requested outright from Boeing,[33] while the rest from other parties. The order was South African's aim to renew its fleet and phase out the likes of Airbus A300s and A320s, meaning the Boeings would be deployed on regional and domestic routes of the airline.[29] The 737 order was followed by yet another 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,[32] taking advantage of a slump in the order books both Boeing and Airbus. The entire airline industry was still staggering after the September 11 attacks in the U.S., which lead to new aircraft orders either being deferred, or cancelled altogether. SAA was in a buyers market and with the demise of Swissair, which had A340-600s about to be delivered, made a huge impact on 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.[32] Three of the A340-600 aircraft came from International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC). The new Airbus A319s replaced the ageing Boeing 737-200 fleet,[32] but the Boeing 737-800s continue in service, because SAA cancelled the A320 order before any aircraft were delivered.

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,[34][35] and was SAA's first acquisition of a foreign airline. The merger failed in 2006 when new SAA management felt that the arrangement was an unprofitable mistake made by previous SAA managers.[36]

Restructuring and Star Alliance: 2006–present

"On behalf of all member carrier CEOs gathered here today, it is with great pleasure that we welcome SAA into our family. With SAA we do not only gain a further member, but we more importantly provide improved access to an entire continent to our customers."

Jaan Albrecht, CEO of Star Alliance First African airline to join an alliance

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.[37] The plans called for the split of South African Airways from its parent company Transnet, which would see SAA to operate under a separate identity. Because of legislative processes, the deadline was moved from 2005 to 31 March 2006.[38]

A significant was SAA's joining the world's biggest airline alliance, Star Alliance, on 10 April 2006.[39][40] SAA was the first African airline to join Star Alliance, and with its entry, the alliance's membership was raised to 18.[41] To celebrate the occasion, and as a condition of entry, the African airline painted an Airbus A340-600 (registration ZS-SNC and Boeing 737-800 (registration ZS-SJV) in Star Alliance's aircraft livery.[42] South African Airways fulfilled 53 requirements during the joining process.[43]

In May 2007, SAA launched a 18-month comprehensive restructuring programme[44] 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,[44] thereby allowing SAA to concentrate on its core business of passenger and cargo transport; the grounding SAA's Boeing 747-400 fleet;[44] rationalising international routes (Paris was dropped altogether); the axing of 30% of the airline's managers;[45] among other reductions. This was expected to save the airline R2.7 billion (US$378.2 million).[44] By June 2009, R2,5 billion were saved.[46]

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 sponsorship extension succeeds two years of co-operation that "have seen a successful partnership blossom between SAA and the ATP".[47] 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 individual in which he had an interest. Among them are ATP and professional golfer Ángel Cabrera.[48]

A Boeing 747-400 (ZS-SAX) at London Heathrow Airport in current colour scheme. The aircraft was part of the long-haul fleet, after being retired permanently in 2010.

In February 2010, the airline appointed Siza Mzimela as its first female CEO. This came after "an extensive and thorough process to find a suitable candidate" for Khaya Ngqula,[49] who was accused for mismanagement, and has therefore quit. Mzimela was previously CEO of SAA's domestic partner airline, South African Express (SA Express). She took over the position from Chris Smyth on 1 April that year,[50] who has been acting CEO ever since Khaya Ngqula left since March 2009.[51][52]

At the end of 2010, SAA permanently phased out the two Boeing 747-400s, which were temporarily re-introduced in late 2008.[53] The 747-400s, which had been important to the airline's long-haul route structure, were initially retired in 2007 as part of the company's restructuring plan.[54] This was expected to save it $60 million during the fiscal year ending March 2009. The fleet of Jumbo Jets was the backbone of South Africa–U.K. services. When the aircraft re-entered service, they served flights to Lagos and Luanda.[53] SAA's Airbus A340-600s are the 747's replacement.

In April 2011, South African Airways embarked on a set of new marketing campaigns in the form of 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 rival carriers on key routes to London from both Cape Town and Johannesburg.


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 has been discontinued since 1997, when it was dropped in favour of a new aircraft livery and identity, although the word "Springbok" remains its radio callsign.

Corporate affairs and identity

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.[55][56][57] The building was developed by Stauch Vorster Architects.[58] 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.[59]

South African Airways moved its head office from Durban to Rand Airport in Germiston on 1 July 1935[citation needed]. Before the head office moved to its current location, the airline's head office was in the Airways Towers in Johannesburg.[60]

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.[61][62] 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.[63]

"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.[64]

Operating highlights

South African Airways Operating Highlights
Year ended Revenue
(R million)
Operating profit
(R million)
Profit before
(R million)
Profit attributable
to equity holders
(R million)
EPS after tax
– diluted (cents)
Load factor (%) RPK (million)
31 March 2002[65] 14,203 N/A 71 67 20,466
31 March 2003[65] 17,342 N/A -191 68 21,769
31 March 2004[65] 16,339 N/A -166 67 21,769
31 March 2005[65]:40 17,186 654 645 645 28 70 21,769
31 March 2006[65]:40 19,423 414 312 301 8 70 21,769
31 March 2007[66] 20,609 -12 75 25,381
31 March 2008[67] 22,257 75 24,619
31 March 2009[68] 26,435 73 21,935
† From 31 March 2006, SAA comes under government control


South African Airways flies to 30 international destinations in 26 countries[citation needed] in Africa, Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australasia. SAA, along with Air France, British Airways, Delta Air Lines, Emirates, Korean Air, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines (from 27 March 2011) and United Airlines, is one of the few carriers to have services to all six inhabited continents. The airline has a strong presence in Southern Africa, while domestically it serves five cities.

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.[69] SAA will also start flights to Beijing, China on 1 September 2011.[70] This route will be operated with a A340-600, due to its long duration, once more A330-200s arrive and make more plane available.

Codeshare agreements

Besides fellow Star Alliance members, South African Airways has codeshare agreements with the following airlines:


As of 30 November 2010, the South African Airways fleet has an average age of 9.8 years.[77] As of March 2011, SAA's fleet consists of the following aircraft:[78] SAA Was the launch customer for the enhanced version of the A340-300

South African Airways fleet[79]
Aircraft Total Orders Passengers Notes
C Y Total
Airbus A319 11 25 95 120
Airbus A320-200 10
Deliveries from 2013[80]
Airbus A321-200 10
Deliveries from 2013[80]
Airbus A330-200 3 6 36 186 222 Deliveries from 2011
Airbus A340-200 5 24 226 250 To be withdrawn from 2011
Airbus A340-300 8 38 215 253
Airbus A340-600 9 42 275 317 ZS-SNC painted in Star Alliance livery
Boeing 737-800 15 32 125 157 ZS-SJV painted in Star Alliance livery
South African Airways Cargo Fleet
Boeing 737-200 2
Boeing 737-300 2
Total 55 26
  • SAA's A340-300 fleet was expanded from the original 6 aircraft to the current 8. The delivery dates of aircraft 7 & 8 were:
  • The seventh A340-300 (ZS-SXG) on 27 Ootober 2010 - bought from Iberia.
  • The eighth A340-300 (ZS-SXH) on 30 November 2010 - bought from Iberia.
  • The B737-800 fleet has now been reduced to 15 aircraft. The other 6 (out of the original 21 aircraft are operating with Mango OR have been returned to their leasing companies.
  • SAA is trying to have the A320's & A321's currently on order delievered ahead of schedule - possibly from early 2012.
  • SAA took delivery of its Airbus A330-200's on the following days:
  • First Airbus A330 on the 14 February 2011 (ZS-SXZ)
  • Second Airbus A330 on the 23 March 2011 (ZS-SXY)
  • Third Airbus A330-200 on the 3 May 2011 (ZS-SXX)

Fleet history

Over the years, South African Airways operated the following aircraft types:

South African Airways past fleet
Aircraft Total Introduced Retired
Airbus A300 9 1976 2001
Airbus A319 2004
Airbus A320 7 1991 2002
Airbus A330-200 5
Airbus A340-200 2003
Airbus A340-300 2004
Airbus A340-600 2002
Boeing 737-800 2002
Boeing 747SP 6 1976 2002
Boeing 747-200 8 1971 2002
Boeing 747-300 6 1983 2003
Boeing 747-400 8 1991 2010
Boeing 767-200 3 1993 2004
Boeing 737-200 27 1968 2007



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 business.[81] Voyager consists of five tier statuses – Blue, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Lifetime Platinum. To reach a higher tier, members must fly on selected flights to allocate "Tier Miles", in order to progress. This is different from "Base Miles", which members can only use to win receive awards.[82]

Incidents and accidents


  • 16 June 1937: A Junkers Ju 52 (registration ZS-AKY) crashed on take-off at Port Elizabeth Airport following engine failure in two engines and burnt out. All aboard escaped. This was the airline's first accident in which passengers were injured.[83]
  • 5 January 1948: A Lockheed Model 18 Lodestar (registration ZS-ASW), overran the runway at Palmietfontein after landing deep. The undercarriage was ripped-off and the hull damaged beyond repair. There were light injuries to passengers but no fatalities.[83]
  • 6 March 1962: Flight SA512, a Douglas DC-3 (registration ZS-DJC), crashed into a mountainside in the vicinity of Seymour, Eastern Cape, South Africa, after the pilot insisted on conducting flight as visual flight rules (VFR) while flying below low cloud above rising ground. The pilot and first officer were killed but passengers and cabin staff survived.[83][85]
  • 13 March 1967: Flight SA406, a Vickers Viscount 818, (registration ZS-CVA) christened Rietbok, crashed into the sea 1.5 miles (2.4 km) offshore while on final approach during bad weather in the vicinity of East London, Eastern Cape, South Africa. No cause was found by investigators due to the inability to retrieve or photo map wreckage. All aboard were killed.[83][85]


  • The only successful hijacking of a SAA flight took place on 24 May 1972 when a Boeing 727 (ZS-SBE) was hijacked en route from Salisbury in Rhodesia (now known as Harare, Zimbabwe) to Johannesburg. Two Lebanese, Kamil and Yagi, took control of the aircraft by packing dynamite sticks on the hatracks. They were armed with a pistol. They forced the pilot, Captain Blake Flemington, to return to Salisbury where they landed and re-fuelled with 12 hostages remaining on board. They were bluffed by the captain into thinking that they were en route to the Seychelles, while he was in fact heading for Blantyre in Malawi. After landing the passengers used nightfall to go into the cockpit, where they climbed down the emergency escape rope. By the time the hijackers realized this, the captain, one passenger, and a flight steward, Dirk Nel, remained on the aircraft. The two hijackers started fighting with each other for possession of the dynamite fuse. In the ensuing chaos, the three captives escaped, leaving the two hijackers on board. The Malawi security forces started shooting and the two surrendered. They were jailed for two years on a charge of being in possession of an undeclared firearm on board an aircraft. After serving one year of their sentence, they were released.
  • South African Airways Flight 322, 17 June 2006. South African Flight 322, a Boeing 737-800 underwent an attempted hijacking by a 21-year-old Zimbabwean, who took a flight attendant hostage in an attempt to enter the aircraft's cockpit and divert the plane to Maputo, Mozambique. He was subdued before entering the cockpit on the flight en-route from Cape Town to Johannesburg. The pilots of SAA Flight 322 had been monitoring the incident via CCTV and the plane returned to Cape Town where a police task force stormed the aircraft and arrested the suspect.[86]

See also


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"South African Airways: A Brief History". SAA Museum Society.

External links