Abuja route grows SAA’s flight footprint in Africa
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.