South African Airways Operates First Flight Since Resurrection

South African Airways is back. The airline operated the first flight of its return earlier today, operating from Johannesburg to Cape Town with an Airbus A320. The airline was placed into business rescue in December 2019 and was even set to be shut down completely at the height of the world health crisis last summer.

South African Airways, Airbus A320, First Flight
SAA’s first passenger flight of 2021 departs Johannesburg Airport. Photo: Getty Images

A year ago, it didn’t look very likely that South African Airways would ever return to the skies. Recently Etihad CEO Tony Douglas told Simple Flying never to say never about the Airbus A380’s return. It seems that we also should’ve never said never to SAA’s return.

Back in the blue skies

This morning was one of celebration for South African Airways. Since the airline was grounded over a year ago, a flight carrying passengers took to the skies for the first time. This was flight SA317 from Johannesburg to Cape Town.

According to data from, the aircraft was scheduled to depart at 08:05, with a landing in Cape Town planned for 10:15. The aircraft departed just three minutes late, touching down four minutes behind schedule. The aircraft cruised between 32,000 and 36,000 feet, with a flight time of two hours 11 minutes.

South African Airways, Airbus A320, First Flight
The flight lasted two hours and 11 minutes. Photo:

Airbus A320 reporting for duty

A six and a half-year-old Airbus A320 was given the honor of operating the airline’s re-inaugural flight. According to, ZS-SZJ is 6.62, having first flown on February 10th, 2015. The jet is owned by Goshawk and is leased by SAA, who took delivery of the aircraft new.

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SZJ spent much of the past year outside of South Africa. While it didn’t leave SAA, it was flown to Abu Dhabi on October 10th, 2020. After ten months in storage, the jet flew back to Johannesburg on August 12th, ahead of its return to service. As of May 31st, the aircraft had completed 15,206 flight hours across 8,421 flights, with a current market value of $26.05 million.

What does the new SAA look like?

So what should we expect from the rebirth of SAA? ch-aviation’s data reveals that the airline has just eight aircraft left in its fleet. This includes,

  • 3x Airbus A319
  • 2x Airbus A320
  • 1x Airbus A330-300
  • 2x Airbus A340-600

Sadly, the airline’s Airbus A350s, which only began flying in SAA colors in February 2020, didn’t stick around. Two ended up in storage in Teruel alongside Lufthansa’s Airbus A380s. The other two were returned to Air Mauritius.

South African Airways, Airbus A320, First Flight
SAA’s scheduled flight network for October. Photo: Cirium

Information from aviation data experts Cirium shows that the airline has just over 200 round trips planned for each month moving forward. For the time being, the airline is focusing on intra-African flights. All flights are scheduled for the A320 family aircraft, except for Accra in Ghana, which has the sole A330 assigned.

Are you excited to see South African Airways back in the skies? Let us know what you think and why in the comments!