Abuja route grows SAA’s flight foot­print in Africa

CityPress - - Business - SIZWE SAMA YENDE sizwe.yende@city­press.co.za

Loss­mak­ing state-owned air­line SAA is plan­ning to in­vest in as many routes as pos­si­ble to the rest of Africa as part of its long-term turn­around strat­egy.

SAA re­gards Africa as its back yard and is hop­ing its prox­im­ity will en­able the air­line to in­crease its rev­enue and halt on­go­ing losses.

SAA launched its first di­rect flight to Nige­ria’s cap­i­tal, Abuja, last week. The air­line has pro­jected it will carry 400 pas­sen­gers a week in an A330-200 air­craft, with a ca­pac­ity of 36 pas­sen­gers in busi­ness class and 186 in econ­omy class.

SAA spokesper­son Tlali Tlali said prof­itabil­ity would be de­ter­mined by pas­sen­gers and cargo moved along the Abuja route.

“Load fac­tors [pas­sen­gers] do not ac­count for ev­ery­thing be­cause we have an air­craft belly that we use to carry cargo. Cargo is also paid for,” Tlali added.

The air­line al­ready op­er­ates the Jo­han­nes­burg-to-La­gos route.

The Abuja route will fly three times a week and tar­gets the diplo­matic, busi­ness, govern­ment and tourism traf­fic.

“Our long-term strat­egy is spe­cific in giv­ing us the man­date to grow our foot­print on the African con­ti­nent,” Tlali said.

“The ob­jec­tive is to con­tinue to grow our rev­enue in or­der for us to im­prove the prof­itabil­ity of the air­line.

“This means we will be able to grow our busi­ness as we be­come more en­trenched on the con­ti­nent in terms of our re­la­tion­ship with the host coun­tries and other air­lines, as well as part­ners and stake­hold­ers,” he added.

SAA is al­ready op­er­at­ing in 11 cities in the west and cen­tral African re­gion, namely Kin­shasa, Li­bre­ville, Pointe Noire, Brazzaville, Douala, Ac­cra, La­gos, Abuja, Cotonou, Abid­jan and Dakar.

In to­tal, SAA op­er­ates flights to 27 des­ti­na­tions in 23 coun­tries in Africa.

Trans­port econ­o­mist Joachim Ver­mooten said the African mar­ket had po­ten­tial, but the prob­lem was the small traf­fic vol­umes.

“Com­pared with do­mes­tic traf­fic, the African traf­fic is only 4% of that,” Ver­mooten said.

“I think it would be best if SAA op­er­ated a smaller air­craft to Abuja on a daily ba­sis, but that is not pos­si­ble be­cause of lim­ited bi­lat­eral rights be­tween the two coun­tries.”

“The vi­a­bil­ity of this route can be de­ter­mined af­ter two years,” he said.

SAA has been be­set by fi­nan­cial prob­lems. It has been sur­viv­ing on R14 bil­lion worth of gov­ern­ment­debt guar­an­tees and last posted a full-year profit in 2011.

The air­line has asked Fi­nance Min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han for more guar­an­tees.

Tlali said SAA was not plan­ning to close any of its African routes, as most were prof­itable.

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