South African Airways (SAA) took its first Airbus A330-300 on December 2nd, 2016. It was a momentous occasion for the airline and Airbus. With room for nearly 250 passengers, it was the airline’s latest and greatest widebody aircraft at the time and flew some very prestigious routes for the airline. Fast forward four years, however, the airline is not flying any Airbus A330-300s as its future remains in doubt.
South African Airways’ Airbus A330-300
SAA took its first Airbus A330-300 just over four years ago. The airline selected the 242-tonne maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) variant of the A330-300. The higher MTOW A330-300 has a range of up to 6,350 nautical miles or 11,750 kilometers. However, for SAA, the important part was that the jet could be used on some very prestigious routes and had a brand new hard product onboard.
South African Airways once had a fairly extensive long-haul network. The airline was flying most routes using widebodies like the Airbus A330-200 and Airbus A340-300 and A340-600s. However, those aircraft had an outdated hard product and were not the best choices for a lot of SAA’s routes.
Enter the Airbus A330-300. With the higher MTOW, the aircraft was capable of performing flights out of Johannesburg (JNB), which is a hot and high airport, and SAA’s largest hub. The Airbus A330-300s flew to some high-profile destinations, including London and Washington D.C.
According to Planespotters.net, SAA flew a grand total of five Airbus A330-300s. These were registered as:
The interior configuration
South African Airways opted for a two-class configuration onboard the Airbus A330-300s. This included 46 lie-flat business class seats. These seats were a staggered, forward-facing product in a 1-2-1 configuration with a fair bit of privacy. This is a huge upgrade over the airline’s 2-2-2 forward-facing lie-flat product on other aircraft, like the Airbus A340.
Love the interior of South African Airways business class. Beautiful Airbus 330-300 aircraft. @flysaa @meetsouthafrica @passportmag #meetsouthafricawithclinton #flysaa #southafricanairways #A330300 #airbusA330300 #businessclass #meetsouthafrica #southafricatourism pic.twitter.com/qMLi1NUt9L
— ClintonKPhotos (@ClintonKPhotos) August 17, 2019
Back in economy, SAA could only fit 203 seats, thanks to the massive business class cabin. With between 30 and 32 inches of pitch in a 2-4-2 configuration, this was a pretty standard Airbus A330. SAA did not offer premium economy or extra-legroom economy on any of its Airbus A330-300 aircraft.
What has happened to the aircraft?
SAA is no longer flying any Airbus A330-300 aircraft. All of the airline’s A330s were leased, and the carrier has returned all of those aircraft, including the A330-200s. None of those aircraft have found homes elsewhere yet. Given the ongoing crisis, it will likely be a while before anyone signs on to take the A330s. After that, it will likely need to undergo an interior retrofit to meet the new carrier’s specifications.
Previously, it looked like SAA would be liquidated. Now, however, the airline’s future is in doubt as it was able to receive some funding and has a business rescue plan in place, but executing that will take time. Not to mention, given the state of the aviation world currently, it does not make sense for the airline to take on widebodies, like the A330-300, especially as international long-haul travel demand remains low and widebodies are not as cost-efficient on short-haul routes.
In the future, if South African Airways does enact its business rescue plan successfully, there may be room for the A330. Just before shutting down amid the ongoing crisis, the airline took on new Airbus A350s in a bid to modernize its fleet. If the carrier decides to stick with newer jets, it may take those A330s, which are all pretty new, and already in the carrier’s configuration. This, however, is no guarantee and there is no clear outlook on how the rest of the crisis will evolve.
Are you a fan of SAA’s Airbus A330-300s? Do you want them to take the aircraft back? Let us know in the comments!