Johannesburg based South African Airways (SAA) has been flying for over 70 years. Over those years, they’ve had a fleet that’s drawn on both Airbus and Boeing aircraft. From a straight numbers perspective, the backbone of their fleet has been Boeing 747s and Boeing 737s – they’ve flown 28 and 53 of them respectively. Then, at the other end of the spectrum, was SAA’s flirtation with 767s. They only ever had three of them. Why? What happened to SAA’s Boeing 767’s?
The SAA 767’s
SAA flew those three Boeing 767-200s across an eleven-year period from 1993 to 2004. For half that time, they only had a single 767-200ER.
With such a small fleet, not a great deal is known about the planes. One of the few sources of information, a blog about South African Airways, says the airline “realized” the 767’s potential. If that was the case, why did SAA only acquire and operate three of the type?
One possible answer is that even by the early 2000s, the 767s were past their prime. Newer, more efficient twin-aisle passenger jets were starting to come onto the market. But Boeing still manufactures 767s, about 2.5 a month, albeit mostly for the freighter market.
The first came in 1993 when SAA subleased a 767-200ER from Linhas Aéreas de Moçambique. This was registered as ZS-SRA. That plane was set to go to Linhas Aéreas de Moçambique but it appears that airline couldn’t pay for it. SAA stepped into the breach and picked up a factory fresh plane. ZS-SRA flew for SAA until March 2000 when it went back to Linhas Aéreas de Moçambique who passed it onto Air Luxor. ZS-SRA in its later incarnations flew until 2015 when it was retired by Boeing Capital Corporation.
A former SAA pilot who flew ZS-SRA for SAA notes she was a pleasure to fly – well maintained and reliable.
ZS-SRB and ZS-SRC
In 1997, SAA took two more Boeing 767-200s that were flying for Egyptair, ZS-SRB and ZS-SRC respectively.
These weren’t new aircraft. Under a different registration, ZS-SRB went to Egyptair in 1984 and flew for them for 13 years until 1997 when it went to SAA. The plane stayed with SAA until March 2004. It is now 35 years old and flying for KrasAir as EI-GAA.
ZS-SRC has had a more storied life. Like ZS-SRB it came to SAA after flying for Egyptair for 13 years. It stayed with SAA until March 2004. From there it also went to KrasAir where it flew for them for five years. By 2010 it was flying for Interair South Africa where it stayed until 2017. After a spell in storage across 2017/18, the plane is now flying for US-based Eastern Airlines as N605KW.
That former pilot also flew these two aircraft, and he was less complimentary about them. It’s worth keeping in mind that ZS-SRA was brand new whereas ZS-SRB and ZS-SRC were already 13 years old. But the pilot said they had not been well looked after – engines shut down at high altitude and there were emergency evacuations. This was despite SAA maintenance staff working to get the two planes up to scratch.
Speculating, it is perhaps the trouble SAA had with these two planes that deterred them from picking up more 767-200s, especially pre-owned ones
SAA fleet evolves
Whatever the reason, it was a brief foray by the aircraft type at South African Airways. The airline, despite its travails, has evolved. Its contemporary equivalents are A330s and A340s. It is soon to send A350s off on its flagship New York route. The sleek cabins and operational efficiencies of these new aircraft are a world away from those 767s.