South African Airways Set To Debut Its Airbus A350 To New York

South African Airways (SAA) recently welcomed its first Airbus A350. If you’re keen to fly on this beautiful bird, you won’t have to wait long because the airline plans to debut it on flights to New York in just six week’s time.

SAA first A350
South African will debut the A350 on its route to New York. Photo: SAA

The arrival of the Airbus A350 marks the first of four A350s due to be flown by the airline. All of the new aircraft will be leased for a period of three years and estimated to be in operation by the end of 2019.

As published by Sowetan Live, South Africa Airways’ acting CEO, Zuks Ramasia remarked:

“We welcome the first A350 home on South African soil. The introduction of the A350s offers a new beginning for the airline and will contribute to the airline’s operational efficiencies, and get SAA back on track. It is an important step-change as we continue to make progress to transform our business and return the airline to financial sustainability in the shortest time possible”.

The first route

The new Airbus A350 will fly to New York John F Kennedy Airport nonstop, replacing the Airbus A340-600 which has operated the route to date. The switch to the new aircraft on the route is expected to reduce fuel usage by around 25%. This will improve the profitability of this important route. All round, good news for the airline and the environment.

The airline has announced that the JNB to JFK service will begin with the A350 in mid-December, around six weeks from now. As more A350s join the fleet, we can expect to see more route announcements from SAA, as they upgrade their fleet to this more efficient airliner.

SAA A340-600
The A350 will replaced the A340-600 on the JNB to JFK route. Photo: Arcturus via Wikimedia

Altogether, SAA has committed to taking four A350s by the end of 2019. The first two have already been in service for Hainan Airlines, but only for around a year. The other two are fresh off the production line, having been ordered for Air Mauritius but subsequently not taken up. The airline expects to have all four flying by the new year.

These shiny new A350s are going to provide a healthy complement to the SAA all-Airbus fleet, and in particular, it’s five A330-300s which were added since 2016. Although the airline is still struggling financially, it makes sense to invest in more efficient aircraft in order to improve the profitability of its most lucrative routes.

What can we expect from the A350?

As well as using less fuel, the new A350 will allow SAA to transport a few more passengers too. The new aircraft seat some 339 passengers, with 30 in business and 309 in economy. This is in comparison to the 317 of the A340-600, which included 42 business and 275 economy seats.

In terms of the seats, SAA has had very little to do with the design of the business class cabin on board these A350s. In fact, the layout came, not even from China, but all the way from South America! At the point of manufacture, these aircraft were actually on order for LATAM,  but were then taken up by Hainan who kept the same business class cabin. SAA will keep it too.

LATAM A350 business
SAA will keep LATAM’s A350 business class cabin. Photo: LATAM

As such, we can expect fully lie flat seats but in a 2-2-2 configuration, meaning window passengers will not get that all-important direct aisle access. This is in contrast to Hainan’s other A350s which offer a reverse herringbone configuration. Despite this, they are definitely an upgrade over the A340 in terms of dimensions and quality, so should be welcomed by premium passengers heading across the Atlantic.

The next two will come from the Air Mauritius order. As OMAAT points out, Air Mauritius usually has a staggered business class seating, so if SAA keep this layout then these could prove to be the better business class cabins to choose.

No fixed date is, as yet, available for the start of the SAA A350 services. As always, we’ll keep you updated as and when we know more.