South African Airways (SAA) is now operating its brand new Airbus A350-900 commercially for the first time. The aircraft is initially operating domestically between Johannesburg and Cape Town. According to The South African, the inaugural flight departed on Tuesday from Johannesburg to Cape Town after 1000hrs, as flight SA323. It returned as flight SA336 from Cape Town to Johannesburg, landing at approximately 1600hrs.
“We are pleased to offer our customers a superior customer experience with the commercial introduction of the new Airbus A350 aircraft, which offers the quietest cabin of any twin-aisle aircraft,” -Zuks Ramasia, SAA Acting CEO
“As additional aircraft are introduced, more routes will be operated by the Airbus A350-900s, such as SAA’s ultra-long haul routes between Johannesburg and New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK). The A350 will replace the Airbus A340-600 and will still operate Johannesburg – New York on a nonstop basis.” -South African Airways
South African Airways has chosen the Johannesburg-New York route for the cost savings it will allow. The A350-900 is expected to cut fuel costs by 25% in comparison to the Airbus A340, which was previously flying this route.
We asked SAA when they expect to begin A350 service on the JNB-JFK route but no answer was provided by the time of publishing this article.
No other A350 routes have been officially announced but we can imagine that more A340 routes would be replaced as well. These include:
- Perth (Australia) – Johannesburg
- Port Louis (Mauritius) – Johannesburg
- Frankfurt – Johannesburg
Another route 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 stopover in Ghana on the way. It is operated by A340-600 and sometimes an A330-200.
SAA A350 origins
South African Airways has signed a three-year lease for two Airbus A350s coming from Hainan Airlines. Hainan Airlines took ownership of two extra A350-900s from Hong Kong Airlines, which it acquired in a move to downsize the struggling Hong Kong carrier.
The other two A350s are coming from African airline Air Mauritius. This will also be a three-year lease. In July, we reported that Air Mauritius posted a loss of €21.7 million for last year. Therefore, it makes sense that the airline would be careful with inducting new aircraft. Air Mauritius already flies two A350s and is the first Indian Ocean operator of the Airbus A330neo.
SAA’s financial and labor struggles
Last month SAA workers were engaged in job-action that put a sudden stop to the airline’s operations. The airline estimated that the strike cost it as much as $3.4m USD per day.
Striking unions finally reached an agreement with South African Airways ending a week-long impasse. After airline officials and union representatives sat through numerous meetings, the outcome was a 5.9% wage increase and the end of the strike.
It is already well known that South African Airways has been in financial trouble for quite some time now. Having not made a profit for the last seven years, and with losses of more than 5.7 billion rand (US$370 million) for the current financial year, South African Airways is in a difficult position.
Hopefully, by operating the Airbus A350-900, the airline can attract and retain more passengers to have a higher load factor. Additionally, combining this with efficiency gains over older aircraft could assist the airline in its financial troubles.
The A350 is configured with a maximum of 339 seats, of which 30 are business class seats and 309 are economy class seats. As stated above, SAA only plans to operate the aircraft for three years.
“The introduction of the A350s will contribute to the airline’s operational efficiencies and forms part of fleet renewal to enable SAA to compete and serve its customers better through the introduction of new products,” the SAA said in the statement.
What flights would you like to see SAA operate these aircraft? Do you think operating the A350 will help SAA become profitable once again? Let us know in the comments!