New AOC Sees Prospects Brighten At South African Airways

South African Airways has taken a step towards flying again. The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has handed the strife-torn airline a fresh air operators certificate (AOC). South African Airways is eyeing resuming domestic flights in September and rebooting some international services in November.

South African Airways has been re-issued its air operators certificate. Photo: Airbus

“This is an important development as SAA readies itself to take to the skies again in just a few weeks,” SAA interim chief executive Thomas Kgokolo told ch-aviation.

“At our Airways Park headquarters, in hangars, and at terminals around the country, our staff are hard at work in finishing the final preparatory phases before we make an official announcement about the exact take-off date”.

A long road back for South African Airways

In financial strife long before the travel downturn, South African Airways suspended flights when South Africa went into a level five lockdown in March 2020. Since then, senior management have attempted to steer the airline through a formal business rescue process.

International travel restrictions and recurring lockdowns with South Africa have played havoc with the country’s airlines. Mango entered into the business rescue process in late July and suspended flying. In addition, LIFT, Kulula, and Comair had also suspended flying. LIFT recently resumed some services.

After a prolonged stop-start process, recent months have seen some breakthroughs at South African Airways. After a long negotiation, South African Airways did a deal with the SAA Pilots Association (SAAPA) to keep on 88 pilots (from a pool of 268) in July.

in June, the South African government has agreed to sell its majority stake in South African Airways. It was hoped unshackling the airline from government ownership would help with the rescue process. The South African Government retains a 49% stake.

South African Airways now has 11 aircraft, including a single A330-300. Photo: Airbus

Experienced industry figures behind new South African Airways consortium

A consortium called Takatso took a 51% stake in South African Airways. Behind the shiny new entity is Harith General Partners, a pan-African investor in African infrastructure, and aviation group Global Aviation.

The chairperson of Harith General Partners is Jabulani Moleketi. Mr Moleketi is a former South African deputy finance minister. Takatso’s new CEO is Gidon Novick. Mr Novick is a former Comair co-CEO and more recently co-founded LIFT.

Both well-regarded airline industry figures in South Africa, South African Airway’s freshly re-issued air operators certificate continues the new momentum at the airline.

There are signs of some momentum at South African Airways. Photo: Airbus

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New air operators certificate clears eight SAA planes to fly

But the AOC does come with a caveat. South African Airways now has 11 aircraft in its fleet. They comprise three Airbus 319-100s, one Airbus A330-300, three Airbus A340-300s, and four A340-600s. The new AOC only covers eight of the planes.

According to ch-aviation, the renewed operating license did not specify what aircraft were covered. However, a spokesperson later told the news site the certificate covered A320 and A340 types totalling eight aircraft. SACAA’s Vimla Maistry also noted that’s all South African Airways asked to have included in their AOC.

Gidon Novick and Jabulani Moleketi, along with their minority South African Government partner, want to “reposition” South African Airways. After long running technical, financial and operational problems at the airline, there are now hopes South Africa’s flag carrier may find itself on a surer footing.

“A change of ownership doesn’t solve the wider problems that the airline faced,” one analyst said. “But the acquisition at least allows the airline to survive and gives it a new source of funding and an opportunity to re-establish itself. That in itself is progress, given that last year liquidation looked the most likely outcome.”