Where Will South African Airways Fly Its Airbus A350s?

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South African Airways is hotly anticipating the delivery of its fourth Airbus A350, which will arrive sometime this month. But with three aircraft already in its fleet, where is it planning to fly the aircraft? The airline has kept rather tight-lipped about potential routes but here are some of the routes it might try…

Where will South African Airways use its A350? Photo: South African Airways

New York debut

Whilst the arrival of South African Airways’ A350 fleet has been knowledge for a long time, the airline has been rather cautious about revealing any firm plans for the aircraft. Why that is we don’t know, however, we only hope it means exciting developments are on the horizon.

One thing is for certain when it comes to South African Airways’ A350 routes. For a long time, the airline has been saying that it wants to debut the aircraft with a flight to New York. And that’s expected to happen very soon. The route will go direct from Johannesburg (JNB) to New York John F Kennedy (JFK) at some point in mid-December.

South African Airways has chosen this New York route for the cost savings it will allow. The A350-900 XWB is expected to cut fuel costs by 25% in comparison to the Airbus A340 which was previously flying this route. Therein lies the first suggestion at where else the airline might operate its A350s.

The A350 is more profitable than the A340. Photo: Airbus

A340 replacement routes

At the time of the A350 delivery, South African Airways issued a press release about the route it would be serving. The airline said:

“The aircraft will operate on one of SAA’s ultra-long haul routes between Johannesburg and New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK), replacing the Airbus A340-600 on this route and will still be operated on a nonstop basis. As additional aircraft are introduced, more routes will be operated by the Airbus A350-900s.”

The air carrier currently has 16 A340s in a mixture of -300 and -600 variants. It has nine A340-600 which is the model that operates the non-stop route from Johannesburg to New York. However, these aircraft also fly from South Africa to Europe. One such route is the Johannesburg to Frankfurt route. Could South African Airways be looking at introducing A350s on these long haul routes to Europe?

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SAA A340 at Frankfurt. Could Europe use an A350? Photo: Radosław Drożdżewsk via Wikimedia Commons

Short-haul destinations?

However, if South African Airways is looking at replacing its A340s with the A350 then it’s not only long-haul routes that might be explored. The airline also currently uses an A340-600 aircraft to fly within South Africa.

The airline operates a two hour and five-minute flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town with an A340-600. It also uses A340-300 to operate some of the daily flights as well. If the airline replaced this route with an A350-900 XWB instead, it could result in better profitability on the popular route.

But then, why would South African Airways use a long-range aircraft on routes where other aircraft are better suited? At the moment, it only has four of the A350-900 so it might want to use those aircraft to expand its network or improve services that currently stop before reaching their final destination.

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An example of one of the routes that might profit from the use of an Airbus A350 is the Johannesburg to Washington (Dulles) route. The route is nearly 19 hours long with a fuel stop in Ghana on the way, and is operated by A340-600. Could an A350 improve travel on this route?

At this point in time, it’s difficult to say exactly where the airline will place its A350. Cost-cutting definitely seems like a priority for the airline at the moment so we’re expectant for the operation it has in mind.

Where do you think South African Airways will use its A350? Let us know in the comments!

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